Use this guide when you write new divisions, summaries, or to help improve content that is already there. This will help you make everything you write at the They Vote For You easy to read and understand.

Use plain English

People don’t stop understanding text because it’s written clearly. People who have trouble reading English may not understand if you use difficult language. Research shows that people who read very well also prefer plain English. It allows them to understand your content as quickly as possible.

Don’t use long words, buzzwords, or jargon

Use easy or short words instead of long formal ones. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’. Government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon are often vague, and don’t help people understand what is being said. The Plain English Campaign have a list of words you can use instead. This list is helpful to give you a sense of words which are easier to understand.

Active voice

Use the active rather than passive voice. Use "they sang songs" (active) not "songs were sung" (passive).

Avoid duplication

Duplicate content confuses people and damages the credibility of They Vote For You content. If something is written once and links to relevant resources easily and well, people are more likely to trust the content.

Be concise

To keep content understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:

  • specific
  • informative
  • clear
  • concise – friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words
  • human – not a faceless machine
  • serious but not pompous
  • emotionless – adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin
  • non-partisan – only use words which is used by one

You should:

  • use contractions – e.g. can’t, don’t, they’ll, we’ve, let’s
  • not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar – e.g. say ‘You can’ rather than ‘You may be able to’
  • not use long sentences – check any sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them to make them clearer (Note: words ending in ‘–ion’ and ‘–ment’ tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than they need to be)

Use gender-neutral text

Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’, etc.

Stick to the style guide

By keeping to the style guide, we:

  • save time – people don’t have to learn different conventions
  • make fewer small mistakes
  • make it easier for new people to start writing
  • help users – some people will pick up inconsistencies while reading; that means they are thinking about how something is being said and not what is being said
  • raise trust levels – if we are consistent, we are giving a coherent view

Write for the web

We take into account how people read on the web when we write for They Vote For You. We structure what we write so it can easily be read on-screen and accessed by all, regardless of age and background.

Anyone can put information online, but writing well for the web is very different. Look at popular information sites like the The Guardian, Oxfam, Lonely Planet, or the BBC. You'll see their content is easy to read and understand. They use:

  • short sentences
  • subheaded sections
  • plain english – this helps people find what they need quickly and absorb it effortlessly

Know how people read

Knowing how people read means you'll write in a way they can understand easily and quickly. By the time the average child is 9 years old, they can skip up to 30% of words on a page and still accurately predict the text. That's not just reading online. If there's enough context, the mind fills in the gaps. You don't need to read every word to understand what is written. Also, online, people don't read in the traditional way. They don't necessarily read top to bottom or even from word to word.

Use front-loading

Web-user eye-tracking studies show that people tend to ‘read’ a webpage in an ‘F’ shape pattern. They look across the top, then down the side, reading further across when they find what they need. So ‘front-load’ sub-headings, titles and bullet points. What this means is: put the the most important information first. For example, say ‘Canteen menu’, not ‘What’s on the menu at the canteen today?’ Make sure your bullet points are all in the same tense and verb form, with any common information in the preceding sentence.

Good example:

At the activity centre you can:

  • swim
  • play
  • run

Bad example:

At the activity centre:

  • you can swim
  • you can play
  • you can run

Use common words

By the time a child is 5 or 6 years old, they'll use 2,500 to 5,000 common words. Even as adults, we find these words easier to recognise and understand. When you use a longer word (8 or 9 letters), people are more likely to skip shorter words that follow it, words of 3, 4 or 5 letters. So if you use longer, more complicated words, readers will skip more. Keep it simple. Look at this sentence: "The recently implemented categorical standardisation procedure on waste oil should not be applied before 1 January 2014." It’s just an example, but you can imagine people missing that ‘not’. This is a big deal. How about: "Do not use the new waste oil standards before 1 January 2014."

Focus on the child’s common word set of up to 5,000 words. This makes it easier to read and understand information quickly.

Explain any unusual terms and keep a friendly, informative tone. It’s not a magazine and we won’t be using slang etc. but keep the language easy to understand. Remember that puns or wordplay can make the content difficult to find.

Mostly adapted from Writing for the web and Writing for GovUK licenced under the Open Government 2.0 Licence.