Content Design London

Readability Guidelines Beta update: 3

Published 5 December 2018, by Lizzie Bruce in Content Process Research.

It’s December, and Readability Guidelines Beta is coming to an end. But we’ve got until 18 December to keep discussing the topics together. Plus you can add evidence at any time to the Readability Guidelines wiki!

Since the last update we’ve looked at readability of hyperlinks mid-sentence, revisited acronyms and abbreviations and discussed localised content.

We also spoke about the project at the 20th London Accessibility Meetup. There we turned the usual Q and A format round to ask the audience some of our readability questions.

Readability Guidelines super-contributor Dan led a thought-provoking discussion on links, specifically the readability of links that are positioned in the middle of a sentence. Read his write up on the Readability Guidelines wiki discussion page for links.

Notably, we found that it is better to keep the link to the end of the sentence whenever possible. This reduces cognitive load. We also received feedback that this placement can work better for users with autism.

To recap some other readability points around links that we’ve evidenced during the project: links need to be meaningful, make sense out of context, have a consistent style and not be urls. And link copy should reflect the title of the destination page.

Abbreviations and acronyms revisited

We had consensus that abbreviations and acronyms are not great for readability, except where users know the thing better by its short name term, for example GIF, MB, KB. But it’s also dangerous to make assumptions. VAT may not be known to users who have English as a second or third language.

Acronym markdown, where the full explanation is available as hover text, is a good idea if you have that functionality. GOV.UK explain this under ‘A’ of their style guide.

Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus diving

We also reflected on commonly used words derive from acronyms but are now known for themselves. For example, laser, scuba, radar – all are words that originated as acronyms.


In this week’s localisation discussion led by Rachel Johnston, we started by looking at a standard for easy to understand language called Global English, which is recommended for easy international comprehension. This standard reflected many content design best practice features, like writing clearly using:

  • plain, simple language
  • short sentences
  • active tense
  • good grammar
  • accurate punctuation

And happily we have identified academic research into localisation as evidence for all this.

A balancing act?

However, we also acknowledged that there may be a trade off between truly global English and English that is optimised for native low-literacy speakers. For example, “tummy” may be instantly understood in one English-speaking area but “stomach” or “abdomen” may be more widely, universally understood.

Readability Guidelines meets A11y London

Access Sarah Richards’ presentation and responses to our Readability Guidelines questions from the London Accessibility Meetup audience:

A collaborative effort

Each week the research and discussion is led by volunteer super-contributors. Nearly 400 cross-sector professionals have joined the Slack workspace. And you can join the discussion on Twitter and LinkedIn.

We’d like to get as many content, usability and other digital professionals as possible involved in this collaborative project. Help spread the word by using the hashtag #ReadabilityGuidelines.

Next up

In Week 9 we will be talking about writing about people respectfully and inclusively. You can find out about all topics and access the Slack joining information on the Readability Guidelines wiki.

Dyslexia and low literacy users

We’re keen to gather more evidence about readability issues for users with dyslexia and low literacy levels. Do consider stepping up if you have experience in these areas.

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 Slack discussion, you choose when
  • share this update!

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