Council websites not easily readable, according to report

Written by Nicholas Mairs and Jenni Davidson on 13 September 2016 in News

Analysis of local authority websites finds most are failing to use easy to use easy to understand language and sentence structure

Difficult to understand? - Image credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr

Fewer than one in five local authorities’ websites are written in a way that is easy for the public to understand, a report has revealed.

The study by Visible Thread, a content analysis firm that flags up poor quality and complex language in organisations’ documents and websites, looked at the language used on a sample 100 pages of content on 191 local authority websites from across the UK.

The target is a readability score of 60 or more, which requires a reading level equivalent to English Year 9 – around second or third year in Scotland. Just 18 per cent passed on readability.


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As well as readability, the research also looked at the proportion of passive language, long sentences and complex words used, bringing the results in the four areas together to give an overall ‘clear writing’ score – with a lower score meaning clearer writing.

Just seven councils, 3.6 per cent, met the target of less than four per cent passive language and a mere two local authorities had less than five per cent long sentences.

Four of Scotland’s 32 local authorities – Perth and Kinross, Glasgow, Aberdeenshire and East Dunbartonshire – featured in the report, with all below the target in each factor.

In the overall league table of 191 councils Perth and Kinross Council ranked highest of the Scottish councils at 70, with a clear writing score of 78.75.

This lags well behind the 22.5 clear writing score for top-ranking South Tyneside.

Perth and Kinross scored 56 for readability, had nine per cent passive language, 17 per cent long sentences and 3.69 per cent complex word density.

Glasgow was ranked a little behind Perth at 80 out of the 191 councils, with a clear writing score of 83.25, Aberdeenshire came in at 139 and East Dunbartonshire at 163.

The report revealed wide gaps between the best and lowest scoring websites in each of the four areas, with Fylde Borough Council reaching 95 out of 100 for readability, in contrast to 46 out of 100 for last-placed Chiltern District Council.

This means that while a child in their second year of primary school would be able to make sense of the Fylde Borough Council website, someone reading the Chiltern District Council website would need a much higher level of comprehension.

Despite the general low scores, 141 councils, including the four Scottish ones, achieved a readability score of between 50 and 59, falling just short of the target 60.

“This implies that by simply addressing one of the four areas analysed, the majority of UK local authorities can achieve the target clear writing scores,” Visible Thread said.

Many of the councils scored well in some of the areas and poorly in others.

The report notes that by improving website clarity, councils can cut costs by reducing the number of telephone calls or face-to-face visits to clarify information.

It would also improve accessibility for non-native English speakers.

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