Content and Readability

Plain language on government websites

Too much of the information on federal websites is poorly written and is too complex, especially for the web. Content managers need to pay more attention to the clarity of information. Most federal web content is covered by the Plain Writing Act of 2010, but transforming federal material into plain language will be a major challenge, especially since the underlying paper-based information is poorly written.

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Content and Readability

Ban the alphabet soup

Maybe not an official ban, but there really needs to be an effort to avoid at all costs (or at least first mention) the use of acronyms. If you'd have to explain the acronym to your dad, then you shouldn't use it. We should think of them as swear words. If everyone had to pay a quarter each time they dropped an acronym, we could fill the deficit. :)

 

(I was tempted to categorize this as "Content in other languages.)

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Content and Readability

Avoid Adobe PDF, Flash, Office Docs! Use Only HTML Forms & Docs

Avoid the use of these proprietary formats which require external plugins and are usually never accessible. HTML is always the most accessible and universal format that works on all devices from Cell Phones to Kindles to iPads. HTML is open source and does not require expensive tools like Adobe Acrobat Professional or Flash to develop. HTML is indexable by search engines and makes it easier for the public to find the ...more »

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Content and Readability

Treat web sites as communication channels

Too often federal web sites are designed and managed as technical devices rather than channels for communication. Programs that sponsor web sites and web designers should be required to answer: who is the audience/end user and what do we know about their needs and wants? Then the program can decide if there is a clear purpose, what the content will be and how it will be presented. Best if they do that using a participatory ...more »

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Content and Readability

content

Eliminate the endless page downs through paragraphs, lines and linked URLs that were common web page designs from the early 1990s. These are neither user-friendly nor engaging and serve to bury information for all but the most intrepid.

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Policies and Principles

Use consistent terminology

If a technical term is used, define it in short, easy sentences and use the same term consistently throughout the site. Provide these definitions in a clearly visible glossary. As an example, start with the term "tax table" and end with it, rather than switching to "rate schedule."

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Content and Readability

content must be simplified

Time is limited for everyone who reads online materials. If content is produced in terms the lay person easily understands, engagement can follow with links. Transparency of government will engage citizens, but engagement fades with cluttered, jumbled websites full of specialized jargon. Set up links to more "in depth" information, instead of overloading the introductory page. Hire professional communication people. ...more »

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Content and Readability

Keep it simple

The value of a web site is not only its content but in ease of accessibility and movement throughout the site. There is nothing more frustrating than to maneuver unsuccessfully and waste precious time in the process.

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Content and Readability

Syndicate Content to Create Consistency Across the Nation

For every federal program that is carried out on the local level, there are at least 50 states who replicate that content and thousands of counties who do so as well. Rather than so many descriptions of, say, SNAP [old food stamp program], provide local agencis with the basics in syndicated format -- and written in plain language -- that they can integrate into their pages. CDC does some of this already.

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Search

Search Becomes Strategic - Tied to User Experience

With the recent changes at Google, fixing the search functionality for .gov websites becomes more closely tied to the user experience. This means bringing in user experience professionals who have deep knowledge/expertise in search technology (that powers the site search for these sites) OR search professionals who has a strong background in user experience and information architecture. All too often, designing a successful ...more »

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Policies and Principles

Sentence Structure

The grammar of web language differs greatly from the grammar and style of print. We expect to read shorter sentences, not necessarily all full sentences. Importing print-based sentence structures into a website, especially for key orientation pages and links defeats the point of using a website to build and convey information.

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