How we make our content understandable

This blog post was written by Dawn Kofie.

We’ve written about why we’ve used plain English on our new website. Here’s an overview of how we’ve made our content understandable and accessible.

The main ways are by:

Frontloading information

This means putting the most important information and keywords at the beginning of sentences and sections of text, so they’re the first thing that users read. These are then followed up with more detail.

So, in our content about the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, we’ve put the fact that it will make changes to an existing Act first, and then explained the main aim of the new Bill.

Using clear and meaningful labels and headings

By clearly labelling different sections of our website and pages, we’re making it obvious what each section is about.

We use sub-headings to divide up the text. It makes it easier to read and digest, because users are not confronted with a wall of words.

Sub-headings also make content easier to skim, because they show what each part of it’s about.

This is important because people don’t read every single word on a webpage, they scan it and pick out individual words and sentences. So we have to make sure that we structure what we write for the way people read online.

Using short sentences and paragraphs

There’s no point taking the time to create and upload content to the website if the people who need to use it can’t understand it. That’s why we’ve used plain English and explained technical or complex terms.

We’ve also used short sentences and paragraphs, and bullet points to break up lists. All these things make written content easier to follow and understand.

Readability test tools like the Hemingway App and Readable help us check the reading ease and level of education needed to understand the content we create. We aim for Grade 7.

This means someone who has had a typical education of up to primary 7 can read it. This is the recommended education level to ensure that nobody is excluded from being able to understand our information.

Readability tools are not perfect, but they’re useful guides to check that our content’s consistently understandable. We also back this up by testing if, and how, people who use our website understand the information.

Some ways we’re making our content findable

There’s no point putting time and energy into producing content if people can’t find it. To make this easier we use keyword research and archiving.

Keyword research

Keyword research tells us what combinations of words people are typing into search engines. We include these keywords in our content, so people can find what they need.

Similarly, tools like Answer the Public give us an idea of the questions people want answers to, so we can make sure our information answers them.

We also make sure our information can be found by search engines as 55% of our traffic over the last year came from people searching via search engines.

We do this by making sure:

  • all our information including images are tagged properly in our content management system
  • our pages have unique titles
  • we’re doing regular checks for broken links


We’re also working on a retention policy to make sure we delete or archive information that’s no longer useful for our users. This means it’ll be easier for people to find the information they need.

The problem with PDFs

The main problems with inaccessible PDFs are summarised in this GOV.UK blog post. They:

• are not designed for reading on screens
• are less likely to be kept up to date
• can be hard for some users to access
• are hard to reuse
• do not change size to fit the browser
• make it harder to check how they’re being used
• cause difficulties for navigation and orientation

To avoid this, wherever possible, we’ve made the PDFs we use on the new website accessible. This means that people who use screen readers and text readers can understand and navigate our content.

This is particularly important because of new accessibility regulations that came into force in September 2018.

They relate to public sector bodies. These include central government, local government, and some charities and other non-government organisations.

The regulations say websites or mobile apps must be made more accessible by making them “perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”.

Find out more about what we've done about accessibility.