This resource is an archived version of the Readability Guidelines.

New wiki is at: readabilityguidelines.myxwiki.org

This is a collaborative project to develop inclusive, evidence-based, universal style guidance. Created by Sarah Richards from Content Design London.


Clear language

Plain English
Sentence structure
Sentence length
Specialist terms
Words to avoid/jargon
CTA (calls to action) and buttons
Writing for mobile

Punctuation and numbers

Abbreviations and acronyms
Dashes and hyphens


Writing about people
Use of I/We/You: audience labels

Social media

Hashtags and social

Get involved

Explore and contribute:

Top level findings

1. Use simple sentences: complex sentences take more brain power to process, make readability more difficult for low literacy level users and are harder to translate.

2. Avoid capitalising words: people are more used to reading lowercase letters so comprehension is slower for capitalised words.

3. In paragraphs, keep link text to the end of the sentence whenever possible. This reduces distraction and cognitive load. It can work better for users with autism. Some of this research comes from the 20th London Accessibility Meetup. The previous sentence is an example of positioning links at the end of a sentence.

4. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms except where users know them better in abbreviated form, for example GIF and 5KB. This reduces user confusion.

5. Avoid referencing gender or age: it’s generally not necessary and can easily make your content non-inclusive.

6. Choose respectful vocabulary: research what language could be emotive for your users by exploring forums, blogs and social media, and carrying out user testing.

7. Readability best practices, like using plain, simple language, short sentences, active tense, good grammar and accurate punctuation, improves ease of translation for localisation of content.

Questions we asked

Alpha ran from July to October, 2018. Beta was October to December 2018. We held live weekly, global discussions in Slack. We identified questions in Alpha and researched usability evidence to find answers to them in Beta.

  • Do abbreviations/acronyms make sentences more or less difficult to read?
  • Can we identify any abbreviations/acronyms that are universally recognised?
  • Are all screen readers OK with the ampersand symbol?
  • Do ampersands help or hinder readability of navigation, titles and names?
  • Are there screen readers that read out each individual letter of a capped word?
  • Can we gather a comprehensive as possible list of how screen readers read out dashes (and what they do with hyphens?)
  • Can we comprehensively research screen readers with other punctuation that conveys meaning or adds nuance, like brackets?
  • Can we formalise the low literacy primary evidence about positive and possessive contractions into a usability study?
  • Do positive and possessive contractions cause issues for people with dyslexia, poor vision and learning difficulties?
  • Does having a link mid-sentence impair readability?
  • Defining style guidance on numbers, based on Alpha considerations. We will also explore some sub-topics.
  • Can we identify some evidence for plain language being more user-friendly? (Very similar to legal language evidence study findings but it would be good to have something more general to point to for stakeholders.)
  • Can we identify evidence for simple sentence construction being more user-friendly?
  • Is there a tool to test a word against reading age 9/low literacy level vocabulary?
  • Is it easier for users with a high level of knowledge of a subject (specialist audiences) to read content that includes specialist terms?
  • Is there any evidence around increased engagement and uptake of services by less advantaged/minority groups when content written in positive inclusive language?
  • Are there any user interviews about how likely people would be to uptake a service/buy a thing/recommend organisation, company or product based on the content language?

How it started

The Readability Guidelines Alpha explored:

  • if an open community of content people want to contribute to a single style guide
  • if we'd like to rely on evidence for the style guide elements – and if yes, what evidence would be most useful
  • if a wiki model is sustainable

Read the first Readability Guidelines blog post.

We identified usability questions in Alpha and searched for evidence to answer them in Beta. Alpha ran from July to October, 2018. Beta was October to December 2018. Through the 24 weeks we held live weekly, global discussions in Slack.

Our Slack topic discussion channels are staying open. Explore: readabilityguidelines.slack.com, join: bit.ly/2D0OW1F


You are welcome to edit, comment on or create wiki pages. Please include evidence to support your thinking.

This is a totally open project. As long as all participation is respectful and comments are given in the spirit of positive open learning – dive in! Any comments or queries outside of this wiki, please get in touch on twitter @ContentDesignLN.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License