Explain any words where meaning is ambiguous without pronunciation 

You can help your users by paying attention to words where the meaning isn’t clear unless the word is pronounced (or spoken). Words like these can make it hard for your users to understand your content, especially if they use a screen reader which could pronounce the word incorrectly.

This covers words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently (for example, ‘bow’ v ‘bow’) – also known as heteronyms.

What to do

  • Avoid using words where the meaning, in context, is ambiguous without a pronunciation guide
  • If you need to use such a word, you can explain the meaning to your users by:
    • Providing the phonetic pronunciation of words immediately after the word; or
    • Linking the word to a pronunciation guide on another page on your website; or
    • Linking the word to a pronunciation guide on the same page.

Exceptions

  • If the correct pronunciation is clear from the context of the sentence (for example “Robin Hood used a bow and arrow”).

See also

Users with nine years of school can read your content

All of your users need to read your website. That means you need to write with a range of people in mind, from your College Professor to someone straight out of school.

The key is to write as simply as you can, in clear and plain language.

What to do

The W3C (the writers of the Guidelines), set a benchmark you can test against. The suggested standard is to write so that a person with 7-9 years of schooling can understand you.

You can get your content to this standard by:

  • Writing so that someone with no more than nine years of school can understand you (that’s nine years from their first day at school, so no college or further education).
  • Adding summaries, images and diagrams to content to help explain meaning.
  • Breaking up content with well-organised sections and headings.

Tips

  • You can never write something that every human on the planet will understand.
  • Short sentences are easiest to understand.
  • Stick to one topic per paragraph and one thought per sentence.
  • Avoid slang, jargon and idioms.
  • Use common words and contractions.
  • Write how people speak.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use active, not passive, language (for example, ‘The words were written by Luke’ is passive, but ‘Luke wrote the words’ is active).
  • Microsoft Word and some online services can check for readability against the Flesch Reading Ease test – aim for a score over 60.
  • BUT don’t rely solely on automated tests, use common sense too.
  • GOV.UK has a useful style guide for content producers.

Exceptions

You don’t need to worry about using correct names, even if they are complicated or hard to read. Names of things like people, films, books and companies all might be hard to read, but they are beyond your control.

See also

Explain any abbreviations

Some of your users need help understanding your content. Using abbreviations can cause confusion and prevent your users from understanding your website. Avoid using abbreviations where you can and explain them when you need to use them.

Abbreviations (like Dr for Doctor) also include acronyms (NATO) and initialisms (FBI).

What to do

  • Avoid using abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms.
  • If you need to use an abbreviation, you can explain the meaning to your users by:
    • Showing the meaning in the text (for example, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)); or
    • Linking the abbreviation to a definition on a glossary page on your website; or
    • Linking the abbreviation to a definition footnote on the same page; or
    • Using the abbreviation HTML tag to expand the abbreviation.

Tips

  • Avoid using abbreviations wherever possible (for example, instead of the FBI every time you could say ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ once then refer to them as ‘the Bureau’. This helps users with a cognitive disability, as they may be confused by abbreviations on each occasion and sending them to a glossary or definition interrupts their concentration (and everyone else’s for that matter).
  • The tidiest solution when you need to abbreviate is the HTML option, which creates a hidden expansion that appears on hover and is understood by screen readers.
  • If your use of an abbreviation always means the same thing, you only have to define it the first time it appears on a page.
  • If your use changes you must define the word on every occasion (for example ‘Dr’ might mean ‘Doctor’ in one paragraph and ‘Drive’ as part of an address in another).

Exceptions

You don’t need to explain an abbreviation, acronym or initialism if it’s part of the language (for example, ‘laser’ or ‘CD’).

See also

Explain any strange words

Some of your users will find it hard to read unusual uses of words on your website. Things like figurative language, idioms and jargon can be difficult to process. Avoid using unusual words where you can and explain the use of words when you need to use them.

What to do

  • Avoid using unusual words and phrases.
  • If you need to use an unusual word or phrase, you can explain the meaning to your users by:
    • Showing the meaning in the text (for example, ‘I like bass. A bass is a fish.’); or
    • Showing the meaning in brackets (for example, ‘I like bass (a type of fish)’; or
    • Linking the word to a definition on a glossary page on your website; or
    • Linking the word to a definition footnote on the same page.

Tips

  • If your use of an unusual word always means the same thing, you only have to define it the first time.
  • If your use of an unusual word changes, you must define the word on every occasion (for example, a bass might be a type of fish in one paragraph and a musical instrument in another).
  • Always define technical terms and jargon that any user might not understand depending on their familiarity with the subject.
  • Wherever possible, avoid using jargon and idioms. These are bad for novices in your industry and users who don’t natively speak your language.

See also

Tell users when the language on a page changes

If your website has content in a different language to its main language, you should tell your users about the change. This helps those who use assistive technology to read the full content.

What to do

  • Set your website’s main language by meta tag (see Guideline 3.1.1).
  • Add a language attribute to content that is not in the main language.

Tips

  • HTML language codes match the ISO language codes standard.
  • If you have an alternative language version or translation of some content, link to it with the name of the language in that language (for example, ‘Francais’, ‘Deutsch’) and add a language tag to the link.

Exceptions

If you are using a single word that has become part of the main language (for example, ‘rendezvous’ is used in English but is of French origin).

See also

Every page of your website has a language assigned

Setting every webpage’s HTML language is an easy way to help your users, including those browsing your website with assistive technology. Setting a language is important because the way that screen readers pronounce words depends on the HTML language assigned to your website.

What to do

Ensure that each page of your website has a language assigned to it.

Tips

  • Set the language in your template and you’ll only need to do this once.
  • If you trade internationally and have different parts of your website in different languages, make sure they are assigned correctly.
  • HTML language codes match the ISO language codes standard. W3Schools has a full list of language codes.

See also