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Writing for the web

How to write impactful and accessible content for the website.

Creating content for all our users

Anyone can put information online. But we want to do it really well. 

Research has shown that people rarely read web content word by word, opting instead to scan pages, picking out words and sentences that interest them, and ignoring the rest.  

At the same time, there are approximately 16 million people living with disabilities in the UK with a variety of needs when it comes to accessing and interacting with online content.  

All audiences should understand our content. This isn’t ‘dumbing down’; this is opening up our knowledge for all. As such, the benefits of writing with clarity, brevity and simplicity are easy to see regardless of a visitor’s circumstances. 

Creating accessible content

You must make sure your content is accessible.  

As a public sector body, we're legally required to make the content on our website as accessible as possible. This includes ensuring content is written clearly and simply. The government checks our content to make sure it complies with the internationally recognised guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  

Find out more about accessibility or contact if you have any questions. 

Seven rules for writing for the web 

  1. Make it brief and to the point. 
  2. Break up text into subheaded sections. See our guide to creating headings in Typecase. 
  3. Use numbered and bulleted lists. See our guide to creating lists in Typecase.
  4. ‘Front-load’ subheadings, titles and bullet points by putting the most important information first. See our guide to writing accessible titles and summaries.  
  5. Include links to external sites and relevant pages. See our guide to creating links in Typecase. 
  6. Use words that are easy to understand. 
  7. Use active, not passive, tense. This gives your writing more energy and clarifies who the main actors are in your writing. 

What the user wants matters most 

Users usually only read text if they want information. When you write for the web, start with the same question every time - what does the user want to know? 

Meeting the user need means being: 

  • specific 
  • informative 
  • clear and to the point 

Read our guide to creating user stories for web content. 

Writing for an academic audience 

It is tempting to think that when writing about complex subjects for an academic audience, it isn’t necessary to use plain English. This isn’t the case.  

In fact, research into the use of specialist legal language found that the more educated a person was and the more specialist their knowledge, the more they preferred plain English as it enabled them to understand information quickly.    

If there is a simpler, more direct way to express an idea, use it. Every member of your audience will benefit.  

Technical terms

Sometimes you may need to use a technical term or an abbreviation. That’s fine, but if you do, be sure to explain it fully the first time you use it in your content.  

Legal content can still be written in plain English. However, if it’s not, it’s a good idea to create a plain English summary to accompany it.   

Use plain English

Users don’t stop understanding text because it’s written clearly, they understand it more.  

When writing content, avoid formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use:

  • ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’
  • ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’
  • ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’
  • ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’

We also lose the trust of our users if we write ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague, and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. You can generally get rid of this type of word simply by saying what you are actually doing. Be open and specific. 

Keep your intended audience in mind and write as if you were talking to a single member of it – with the approachable authority of someone who can and wants to actively help. 

Check the reading level

We recommend using Hemingway Editor. This free, browser-based app analyses text, giving it a readability grade and highlighting areas for improvement. To make sure your content is written in accessible, plain English, you should aim for a Hemingway readability grade of between six and eight.  

You can also check the reading level of text in a Word document. This gives you a score for the readability of your document based on Flesch Kincaid readability scores.

Read the Web Content Accessibility Guidance (WCAG) on achieving the highest standards of readability in content.

Words to avoid

This list isn’t exhaustive, it’s an indicator of the sort of language that confuses users: 

  • additional – use 'extra' 
  • advise – use 'tell' 
  • advancing 
  • agenda (unless it's for a meeting) 
  • applicant – use 'you' 
  • combatting 
  • commit/pledge (be more specific – you're either doing something or you're not) 
  • consequently – use 'so' 
  • countering 
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’) 
  • deploy (unless it's military or software) 
  • dialogue (you speak to people) 
  • disincentivise (and incentivise) 
  • dispatch/despatch – use 'send' 
  • empower 
  • ensure – use 'make sure' 
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping) 
  • focusing 
  • forward – use 'send' 
  • foster (unless it's children) 
  • impact (as a verb) 
  • initiate 
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’) 
  • land (as a verb, unless you are talking about an aircraft) 
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense) 
  • liaise - use 'meet with', 'to discuss with', 'to work with' (whichever is more descriptive) 
  • overarching 
  • on receipt – use 'when we/you get' 
  • on request – use 'if you ask' 
  • particulars – use 'details' 
  • per annum – use 'a year' 
  • persons – use 'people' 
  • prior to – use 'before' 
  • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?) 
  • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion) 
  • remittance – use 'payment' 
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – you are probably 'removing x amount of paperwork', or similar) 
  • streamline 
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures) 
  • tackling (unless it's rugby, football or some other sport) 
  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?) 
  • utilise – use 'use' 
  • whilst – use 'while' 

Always avoid metaphors and idioms, particularly clichéd ones, such as: 

  • drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people) 
  • drive out (unless it's cattle) 
  • going forward (unless you are giving travel directions) 
  • in order to (this is superfluous – don’t use it) 
  • one-stop shop 
  • ring fencing 

Use the active voice

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence ​performs​ the action. This sounds more clear, conversational and engaging than the passive voice, for example, 'Professor Walker will deliver a lecture ​on data modelling'​. 

Try to avoid using words such as ‘by’ that may ​suggest​ that you are writing in passive voice, for example, 'the lecture ​on data modelling will be delivered​ by Professor Walker'. 

One exception to this rule is when you want to specifically emphasise the action or impact over the subject ​of the sentence​, for example, 'Bath is named as one of the world's top 100 'most international' universities'. 


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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