Content Design London

Readability Guidelines Beta update: 2

Published 19 November 2018, by Lizzie Bruce in Content Process Research.

Readability Guidelines is continuing as a Beta until week of 18 December. We’re now at the end of week 5 of this 10 week project, so halfway through – already. It’s gone so fast.

Since the last update we looked at numbers and then had a multi-topic session on ampersands, capitalisation, hyphens and dashes.

The magic numbers

Readability Guidelines super-contributor Emily Scard led a thought-provoking discussion in numbers week. Find her numbers write up on the wiki: we’ve added to the article page, which already had some great input in alpha, and updated the discussion. Here are some of the outcomes.

Be specific

We found that being specific, referencing quantities, is good practice. So, “450 people out of a group of 500”, rather than “most people”.

Avoid confusion

Another finding was that writing in years and months is more readable for all than writing just in months, for example write “1 year 6 months” not “18 months”.

We also found that where a sentence includes a numeric quantity be very clear to avoid any potential confusion. Try “500ml water on Mondays and Thursdays” instead of “500ml water twice a week”. At the same time, make sure instructions give the correct specifics. Be clear, but be accurate.

Use a legible font

Always choose a clear, readable font. But especially check that your numbers present clearly. We found there can be confusion between 0 and O and between 1 and I.

Multi-topic week – ampersands and more

Super-contributor Grace Hughes hosted the discussion on ampersands, capitalisation, hyphens and dashes. We grouped these because we wanted to look at these style points from a screen reader user’s point of view.

Our screen reader questions

We had specific usability questions we wanted to find evidenced answers for:

  1. Are all screen readers OK with “&” symbol?
  2. Do ampersands help readability of navigation, titles and names?
  3. Do some screen readers read out each individual letter of a capped word?
  4. How do screen readers read out dashes and hyphens?

Discussion and evidence

Discussion and evidence for this multi-topic week came in on Twitter as well as on 3 Slack channels, culminating in a live chat where we spent 20 intensive minutes on each: ampersands, capitals and hyphens and dashes.

We cited the GOV.UK accessibility blog on writing well for screen readers by Léonie Watson for all 3 of these content style points. The post was based on 20 years’ usability testing with screen readers. From it, we took “write well, using good grammar, to write well for all” as a mantra, as screen readers vary greatly and have adjustable settings.

Within the 3 topics we had an insightful and wide-ranging discussion on more general readability concerns. We:

  • touched on aesthetic design compared to user-centred design in our ampersand chat
  • agreed that capitalised words don’t make for great readability for various reasons, a main one being that people are just more used to reading lowercase (from ’The science of word recognition’, Mike Jacobs, 2003)
  • gave sentence case another big thumbs up
  • agreed hyphens can be a little transient, for example, you don’t see “e-mail” much nowadays
  • as ever, we applauded consistency – any cases where a style point comes to internal choice, be consistent across your organisation in its usage

You’ll find the write up on the wiki shortly – we’re adding to the various relevant article pages and updated the discussion.

Who’s joining us

We have 10 volunteer super-contributors. 340 cross-sector professionals have joined the Slack workspace. And people are talking #ReadabilityGuidelines on Twitter and LinkedIn too.

Please spread the word by using the hashtag – we’d like to get as many content, usability and other digital professionals as possible involved in this collaborative project!

Next up

In Week 6 on Slack we’re talking links – is readability affected by having a link mid-sentence? Come and join in! Find out about all topics and access the Slack joining information on the Readability Guidelines wiki.

We’ll be talking about the Readability Guidelines project on 26 November at the London Accessibility Meetup in Holborn. Sarah and Lizzie are on from 7:10pm. You can also catch up on YouTube. We’ll also be turning the tables a little and asking the audience a few things…

We need you – yes, you

Readability Guidelines is a collaborative effort and relies on the fabulous group input we get from everyone to progress the topics each week.

Especially true for our super-fantastic super-contributors. Thank you to Megan Lane, Karin Tang, Rachel Johnston, Emily Scard, Grace Hughes who have all researched and led live Slack discussion sessions. The project wouldn’t be where it is without you.

Dyslexia and low literacy users

We’d really like to soak up more knowledge around readability issues for users with dyslexia and low literacy levels. Please, please consider stepping up if you have experience in these areas. But that’s not a criteria! Anyone can join in!

Get involved

Over to you… Please:

  • follow #ReadabilityGuidelines on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • join the conversation on Slack: – invite to join:
  • read the wiki pages and Slack channel summaries to find out where we’re up to
  • share usability studies and academic research evidence on the topic’s wiki discussion page or Slack channel
  • become a super-contributor: research a topic and lead a live 30 minute Slack discussion, you choose when
  • share this update!

You can sign up to our email newsletter to get regular updates from Content Design London.

Upcoming courses

2 day Content Strategy course 28 and 29 September 2022 (online. EDT timings)

2 day Foundation content design course. 18 and 19 October 2022 (online, AEDT timings)

2 day Advanced content design course. 19 and 20 October 2022 (online)

2 day Working in the open 20 and 21 October 2022

2 day Content Strategy course 26 and 27 October 2022 (online)

2 day Foundation content design course. 26 and 27 October 2022 (online)

2 day Foundation content design course. 16 and 17 November 2022 (in person)

2 day Advanced content design course 17 and 18 November 2022 (online, AEDT timings)

2 day Advanced content design course. 30 November and 1 Dec 2022 (online)