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Web and document standards

A quick reminder when using “today” on the website to follow it by for example (Monday 22 August 2016).

The rules:

  • Council is referred to as a singular term
  • Avoid referring to forms or documents by codes, give them a 'friendly name'
  • Do not use a full stop or other punctuation at the end of a list item
  • Frequently published contact details should have their own unique page
  • Write email addresses in full, in lowercase, as an active link. The link text must be the same as the email address 
  • Do not use the target URL is the link text, the link text should always be English text so use "the Council's website", not ""
  • Do not open links in a separate window. If you have to have a link that opens a new window, please make sure you do it like this - show help (link leads to external site)
  • Do not repeat page links
  • Do not use generic phrases like 'click here' as link text
  • Phone number should be written as '01271 327711', longer phone numbers should be like this 0300 456 0546
  • Do not write the '&' character
  • Do not use / or () in headings
  • Do not use block capitals
  • Date and time format - whenever 'today' is written, ensure it is followed by the date, eg. 'Today (9 March, 2012)'
  • Apply specific number formatting rules
  • Write out 'pence', 'pounds' and 'percent' in full ie. 3 pence rather than 3p but when using numbers use £ and % ie. £75 (do not put use decimals unless pence are included: £75.45 is okay but not £75.00) and 50%
  • Use "500 to 900" and not "500-900" except in tables
  • Image must have defined 'alt' attribute
  • Page title must be less than 9 words (8 maximum) and less than 60 characters including spaces as that's where Google cuts off the sentence
  • Try to avoid using stop words * in the page title
  • Each title must be unique on the website - two pages can not have the same title
  • Meta description must not be the same as the page title
  • Meta description must not be over 150 characters
  • Meta description must not contain stops *

* stop words - and, or, the etc.

Remember that you should be writing for an 8 year old so that the text is accessible for customers using screen readers and other accessibility technologies.

Capital letters

Content Design London - guidance on capital letters

Words of advice from an Autism and Anxiety specialist

Did you know that the average reading age in the UK is that of a 9 year old?

I didn't. That and plenty of other helpful details came up in a really informative #digitalaccessibility webinar I joined with the Government Digital Service today.

If you only change one thing this week, change your sentence and paragraph lengths:

  • Sentences should be speakable in one breath
  • Or a maximum of 25 words. And paragraphs should be no more than 5 lines

Another #quickwin is to change your link text: start with a verb and make the main instruction your link. Underline it (this will happen automatically on a webpage), put it in a different colour (again, this happens automatically on a webpage) and avoid 'click here'.

Neurodiverse tips

  • leftalign text (no justified!)
  • bullets/short paragraphs
  • keep content wellspaced, don't overload with graphics
  • use alttext/pdf versions of any graphics that have text detail on them
  • give people advance notice of things, and time to digest things
  • subtitles (and making time to do them as part of your communications plan!)
  • use bold/italics sparingly avoid underlines
  • sansserif fonts
  • different formats of things
  • PDF versions of anything printed
  • provide breaks in long updates
  • provide other ways of asking questions eg. not just a live feed on a virtual Town Hall
  • be mindful of colour contrast (text on images)
  • reminders for things, and no short deadlines

Plain English blogs



Screen readers do not understand footnotes on documents. They just read out the number, without mentioning it's a footnote (or even that it's superscript). And they won't flag up the link to the footnote text. It also affects the reading order of the document.

In addition to the problems for people who use screen readers, footnotes don't work very well for many people. You have to jump to the end of the page to read them, and then click on the footnote again to jump back.

Not everyone will know to click on the footnote at the end, so they may lose their place. And if the footnote is repeated several times, clicking on this link might take you to the wrong place anyway.


There are two alternatives to footnotes.

In-context link

Add the url to the subject text. This way, the link that would have been a footnote has context and users don't have to move their position in the document.

For example:

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years (DfE 2015) definition of SEND is detailed below.

Use a highlighted text box

See add, copy, or remove a text box in Word.

Make sure you add alt text to the text box.

 Screenshot of a text box in Microsoft Word - an alternative to footnotes