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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Keep Text Succinct

User Need

I need to understand the language used, including vocabulary, syntax, tense, and other aspects of language.

What to Do

Use short blocks of text

This includes:

  • Keep paragraphs short. Have only one topic in each paragraph.
  • Try to have the aim of the paragraph or chunk at the beginning.
  • Use short sentences. Have only one point per sentence.
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Use short descriptive headings.

How it Helps

Chunking text content makes it easier to read and understand. This helps people with learning or cognitive disabilities related to processing speed or language. People with a memory impairment or anyone who is easily distracted will also benefit. Chunking is also helpful to anyone who is multitasking. Try to put the aim or purpose at the beginning of each chunk or paragraph.

For example, a graduate student with AD(H)D may need to teach themselves a new software skill. The software documentation is broken up into short paragraphs and lists by topic. The student finds the documentation easy to read and understand.

More Details

  • What is a short paragraph? In English, if you have a paragraph of more than 50 words, try breaking it up into two paragraphs.
  • How can I avoid writing a sentence with more than one point? Sentences that have more than one point usually have more than one linking word such as “and” or “but”.
  • Can a long sentence ever be clearer than two short sentences? Double-check if a long sentence is clearer than two short sentences. Do usability testing to see if people with cognitive and learning disabilities find the long sentence easier to understand.
  • When should I use lists? Lists are great when you have three or more things in a row. Think about using an unordered list (with bullet points) for items, requirements, and exceptions. A series of three or more steps is easier to follow as a numbered list.



  1. Short chunks of text. For example:
    • Calgary will have a lot of snow and hail this weekend. Try not to drive. If you must drive:
      • Use the rules for driving in winter to keep safe.
      • Before you leave, check what roads are safe at the Traveler’s Information web site.


  1. Long chunks of text. For example:
    • DOTD Issues Winter Weather Travel Advisory for Calgary. With the possibility of snow and rain in the forecast throughout the holiday weekend, the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced that department staff is prepared to deal with winter weather. Maintenance forces will be on standby to apply sand and salt over any affected bridges and roadways, to remove fallen trees from the roadway, and to close any roads as needed. Interim Secretary Jane Doe urges motorists to take the threat of winter weather seriously. “In the event of adverse weather conditions, the department will strive to maintain access to highways and interstates; however, we encourage the motoring public to avoid traveling during snow and ice, if at all possible,” said Doe.

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