To keep content understandable, concise, and relevant, it should be:
- Clear and concise
- Brisk but not terse
- Incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words) but human (not something generated by a faceless machine)
- Serious but not pompous or emotionless—adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin
- Use contractions (such as can’t and won’t)
- Not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar (for example, say You can rather than You may be able to)
- Use the language people are using
- Use Google Trends to check for common search terms
- Use short sentences
- Check sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them for clarity
Words ending in –ion and -ment tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than necessary. Avoid turning verbs into nouns, a common sign of governmentese at work.
Keep sentences short and sweet
Craft sentences at 25 words or fewer, whenever possible. If a sentence has fewer than 14 words, readers understand 90 percent of content. At 25 words, sentences are markedly more difficult to comprehend.
We also recommend varying sentence length. Switching things up helps you keep readers interested. This tactic will also give you better control of your content’s tone — a text with only short sentences can unintentionally sound terse. The occasional longer sentence adds a bit of narrative interest (and can help a piece of writing sound friendlier, too).
Here’s an example of how you might transform a too-long sentence into something more manageable. Instead of:
Due to privacy and logistical considerations, passes cannot be replaced if lost or stolen; a new Paper Voucher must be accessed by going to the everykidinapark.gov website and completing the same activities to obtain a new Paper Voucher.
Unfortunately, we can’t replace lost or stolen passes. Get a new pass by visiting everykidinapark.gov and signing up again.
Thanks to GDS, who we looked to for inspiration when writing this page.