Clear and simple writing

From Cognitive Accessibility Task Force

Using clear and simple writing is important for most users.

1. Structure Break your content with manageable chunks with obvious functions that the user can absorb. Use a clear structure and, let people know where they are

  • Break up content into specific, objective-sounding topics such as “getting to us by car” or “getting to us by bus”
  • Have one subject per page /screen.
  • One idea per paragraph. (One sentence is enough for a paragraph)
  • A sentence should never have more than one idea. Sentences should be short. (Rule of thumb - less than 15 words )
  • Use headings and subheadings.
  • Make headings clear. Use color, bold and large font to highlight information. Always use the same font across all the headings for the same level
  • Make good use of white space to provide clear layout
  • Use bullet points or numbers with lists
  • Use tables to present related information

2 Use a simple, clear-writing style

  • Choose words people know. Typically, that is simple everyday words. Avoiding abstract, unfamiliar vocabulary.
  • Separate information that is directed at a particular professional audience from information directed at a more general audience and label the professional information as such.
  • Not everyone is a geek – when using web or browser-related terms, consider wring a definition next to it. Avoid using them if they are not necessary. Do you know that many seniors do not know the difference between a web page, web site and home page? (See Neilson)
  • Avoid pronouns or other forms of language that rely upon people having to recall information which they have just read or heard.
  • Use active voice. However there are exceptions as sometimes text sounds better or is less hostile as passive voicing. For example: 'this bill has not been paid' (passive) is softer than 'you have not paid this bill' (active).
  • Give clear, step-by-step instructions;
  • Be consistent in naming steps, such as naming all steps beginning with a verb (such as "press the button").
  • Use pictures to make your information understandable. Preferably one picture per idea (See techniques on pictures)

Sources (refer to for techniques on picture)

Computers helping people with special needs, 14 international conference ICCHP 2014 Eds. Miesenberger, Fels, Archambault, et. al. Springer (pages 401). Paper: Never Too old to use a tablets, L. Muskens et. al. pages 392 - 393.

Phiriyapkanon. Is big button interface enough for elderly users, P34, Malardardalen University Press Sweden 2011.

Computers helping people with special needs, 14 international conference ICCHP 2014 Eds. Miesenberger, Fels, Archambault, et. al. Springer (part 2 page 329). Paper: Supporting senior citizens in using tablet computers, Dahn et. al. .

Example Replacement Words

From Try to use the alternatives we suggest in brackets. additional (extra)

advise (tell)

applicant (you)

commence (start)

complete (fill in)

comply with (keep to)

consequently (so)

ensure (make sure)

forward (send)

in accordance with (under, keeping to)

in excess of (more than)

in respect of (for)

in the event of (if)

on receipt (when we/you get)

on request (if you ask)

particulars (details)

per annum (a year)

persons (people)

prior to (before)

purchase (buy)

regarding (about)

should you wish (if you want)

terminate (end)

whilst (while)