Written Text Guidance

Following are some key written communication design considerations on how to enhance customer communication with members of the public.

The way you communicate with members of the public is very important; your tone, the words you use and the way you write. It is important to think about whom you are writing for (members of the public) and what they know about your organisation (particularly their familiarity with the technical terms you may use).

Think of the person you are writing for

  • What background information do they know about your organisation?
  • Are they familiar with the technical terms your organisation uses?
  • How will they read the document? Will they just skip to the section of interest to them?

Think of the person you are writing for. Instead of focussing on what terms the organisation uses or what information the organisation wants to communicate, focus on what members of the public know about the organisation and if they are familiar with the terms used.

Make text easy to read and understand

Always use the simplest and clearest language possible. Avoid technical language that members of the public may not understand. If you must use technical language, clearly explain what it means in plain English.

Avoid using technical words and terms that members of the public may not be familiar with and if you must use technical words explain what they mean. The example – instead of 30 km/h use 30 km/h (kilometres per hour)

Keep sentences short

Aim to use no more than 15 to 20 words in any sentence. Too many short sentences in a row may appear slightly aggressive to the reader. Mix sentence length. This will provide variety for the reader and sustain energy in your writing.

Break up sentences with full stops, rather than semi-colons. Use one space after a full stop to help with accessibility, particularly for readers using text-to-speech software.

Avoid Latin and French expressions

There can be confusion around abbreviations such as e.g., i.e. and etc.

Try to use the full English equivalents such as ‘for example’, ‘that is’ and ‘and so on’.

Use full English equivalent instead of Latin and French expressions, use for example instead of e.g.

Define unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms

Where a member of the public may be unfamiliar with an acronym, spell it out the first time it is used followed by the acronym in brackets.

For example, Pay As You Earn (PAYE).

Try to keep unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms to a minimum.

Be consistent with terms and formats

Use the same terms and formats for the same concept throughout your document. For example, make sure you write dates and numbers consistently; don’t change from using the word ‘seven’ to writing the number ‘7’.

Be consistent with using the same term throughout a document, for example, instead of using the publication, the document, the report – always use the same term, the report.

Use questions and answers

Questions and answers help to get information across or emphasise certain facts.

Proofread your document

It is important to proofread your document. It is recommended that this be done at least an hour later, though preferably 24 hours later. This helps you see the document with fresh eyes, making you more likely to notice mistakes. If possible, ask someone else to proofread it as well.

Use a set of terms, phrases and explanations

Create a set of terms, phrases and explanations of technical terms that everyone in your organisation uses repeatedly. This can also be applied to writing and layout standards for your written communication.

  • Do you have standard explanations for technical terms that you use for people outside your organisation?
  • What standard explanations for technical terms may not be understood by all members of the public?