The importance of readability
Council websites are very similar to libraries in that they contain an abundance of information on a wide range of topics, written by a variety of voices.
The content on our website is contributed to by more than 100 members of staff throughout the organisation. With more than 1,000 content pages on www.ashford.gov.uk, it is very difficult to regulate the language used and provide residents with a familiar tone that they can instantly recognise.
Different styles of writing have different target audiences who consequently have different reading abilities.
It's very frustrating and alienating if you're unable to understand the local dialect when you're on holiday, but just imagine the annoyance that must set in if you're struggling to read your local council website.
Since the appointment of a Digital Content Officer in January 2019, we have been working on rewriting every single page of our website. In addition, we have created a new internal style guide (which also provides accessibility advice relevant to complying with the WCAG regulations) for staff to follow a house style.
An online readability checker is being used to provide us with a baseline reading score and age for every single page of content. Did you know that the average reading age of UK citizens is just nine years old? Currently the average reading age of our website is suitable for 15 year olds.
We have been rewriting content, with the assistance of services, to incorporate plain English features and devices to make it easier to read.
Removing jargon, or at least providing a definition when it is used, is also helping us to communicate more clearly with our residents.
Bit by bit we're improving our website and making information easier to digest for our residents, hopefully making it quicker for them to find what they're looking for.