Plain Language on the Web

Websites are uniquely available to anyone and everyone - everyone in the world! As Web Content Editors, we must all be aware of this and make our content as readable as possible.

For more information, visit the Center for Plain Language website.

Target Reading Levels

The target reading level for most government websites is 6th to 8th grade. This means that the average 6th-grade student or adult with a 6th-grade education should be able to read and understand what is said on your main web pages.

True, not all content can comply with this, as some of you deal with conveying information of a complex and/or technical nature. We must assume that by the time a visitor gets to those deep pages on your site, they expect in-depth details and language necessary to talk about the subject.

Rate Your Content

Online Tools

How can you tell what the grade level of your content is? Use one of these websites to test it:

Microsoft Word Readability Statistics

If your content starts life in Word, you can use the Readability Statistics feature. With the document open, go to the Tools menu, click Options, Spelling and Grammar tab. Select the "Check Grammar with Spelling" check box, then select the "Show readability statistics," and "OK." Now, click the Spelling and Grammar icon on the toolbar (ABC) to see the reading level, which will show after you go through the misspelled words and grammar issues. This reports the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade level.

Readability Tips

People don't want to be impressed by all the big words we know - they want to find their information quickly and easily and be able to scan it. Help the readability of your content by using these tips:

  • Use headlines to break up the text on the page (use the H3, H4, H5, H6 levels).
  • Cross-link related information on different pages.
  • Use keywords on your page that might be used for searching.
  • Give all the information you can put there in clear, simple words.
  • Build confidence in your content by keeping it updated often.