Annual Report of the Information Commissioner 2016

Writing for the Web

Where applicable, provide important information in other languages

If a large percentage of your customers do not speak English as a first language, where applicable, provide content in other languages or offer a translate button.

Help members of the public to scan text

Break text into chunks using short paragraphs, lists and sub-headings in order to help members of the public quickly understand and absorb information.

Keep content clear and concise

Adopt word-count targets that are appropriate for members of the public and your content.

Suggested word counts are as follows:

Write for members of the public

People interact with text differently online than they do in print. Most people are more inclined to scan text on a website. Therefore, content should be presented in a way that members of the public can obtain key information quickly when they scan your website.

Steps to achieve this include:

  1. Present the key conclusion or facts at the start of the text.
  2. Present information in order of importance. Support the key conclusion with the most relevant information.
  3. Present supporting detail or background information.
  4. Provide links to background or related information if available.


Train content authors and editors in using these techniques.

Learn more

The Centre of Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) provides guidance on ‘ structure and style to maximise readability and scanning ’

Use a clear, readable font

Use a clear and easy to read font that people are familiar with and recognise easily. For example, Verdana or Helvetica.

Use bold or bigger sized text to emphasise text

The general guidance in emphasising important information is to:

  • Avoid using BLOCK CAPITALS
  • Avoid using italics
  • Avoid using underlining

Avoid unnecessary technical terms

If you must use technical words, clearly explain what they mean.

Define unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms

Where a reader may be unfamiliar with an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time it is used, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in brackets.

For example, the Personal Public Service (PPS) number.

Try to keep unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms to a minimum.

Avoid Latin and French expressions

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

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

Use your full organisation name on each page

Spell out your organisation’s name in full on every page. This is particularly important for members of the public who land there from search engines.

Use a house style

Develop a house style (or adopt a third-party style guide) to ensure consistency. This can also be applied to writing and layout standards.

Use ‘Alternative Text’ to make accessible images and media

Alternative (Alt) Text is text associated with images or media that conveys the same essential information as the image.

You should provide Alt Text for any images or time-based media used (for example, videos and advertisements). This enables people who can’t access the image or who have visual difficulties to read the content of the image. A text description of the images also allows the text to be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.

Alternative Text basics:

  • Alternative Text may be provided in the alt attribute or in the surrounding context of the image – in the caption.
  • Alternative ways of communicating the information should also be provided for time-based media (videos, audio and advertisements). For example, transcripts, captions and descriptive video all ensure that the experience is more accessible.

Learn more

The Centre of Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) provides guidance on Alt Text


Pretend to describe the image to a person over the phone. This should be used to determine what the image has to say and have the Alt Text give the same meaning.

Use colour, spacing, images and layout to break up long blocks of text

  • Use images to break up long blocks of text.
  • Use images to support the information in text.
  • Use white space to separate blocks of information.
  • Use colour, spacing and layout to highlight the important information.

Use good quality, relevant images

Use good quality, relevant images that add to or support your text content. Avoid images that are low quality or images that are not relevant to the text content.

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