Readability: Tips for improvement

Make your content easier to read to improve constituents' experience on Mass.gov.

Summary

People read web content differently than books or newspapers. They scan pages quickly, so you’ll want to use bullets, subheads and other techniques to highlight key points.

Siteimprove uses the Flesch-Kincaid formula, which relies on word and sentence length to measure how hard content is to read. Some content requires technical or legal terms (e.g. “administration” and “limited liability”), and this might be appropriate for an expert audience. That said, we recommend that you aim for an 8th grade reading level at most.

Tips for easier-to-read content

  • Do your best to avoid jargon. If you need to include a technical word, define it the first time you use it.

  • Speak to your audience as if you were speaking to a real person. For example, “Renew your driver’s license…” instead of “Renewing a driver’s license.”

  • Limit use of adverbs and adjectives. Sometimes, the answer to an adverb is a better verb. (“Run very quickly” -> “Sprint”)

  • Avoid redundancies (e.g. “a limited partnership is a partnership…”).

  • Keep paragraphs focused on 1 idea.

  • Use simple sentences. Break long sentences into multiple simple sentences.

  • Don’t be too formal. Use contractions where it’s natural to do so.

  • Use the kind of language your audience would use. For example, use “get” instead of "obtain", and “stop” instead of “cease.”

  • Try running your content through Hemingway, a free online tool that helps you revise hard-to-read text. The tool will point out overuse of adverbs, passive voice, long sentences, and terms that have simpler alternatives.

  • Review the Mass.gov style guide, which includes guidance on everything from grammar to proper hyperlinking to the best way to represent times, dates, etc.

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