10 user-centric language changes for councils

Gemma Bates - Invuse Business Analyst

As a Business Analyst, I get to work with Councils and stakeholders to support them in the development of great end-user focused content which is accessible to all. When it comes to writing or reviewing content, I always keep the following three things in mind:

Think about the end user

Aim to keep it brief

Aim to keep it simple

The average UK reading age is 9 years old

With that in mind, I thought I would share 10 of the most common task wording changes I often recommend to the Councils we work and consult with.

10 of the most common task wording changes for Councils

1. ‘Refuse collection’ becomes ‘Bin collection’

“Refuse” can mean “an unwillingness to accept” and “Refuse” is “waste”, however the two can easily be confused. Avoid confusion and be straight-talking. “Bin” is much more user friendly.

2. 'Household Waste Recycling Centre’ becomes ‘Tip’

In our experience (reinforced by user testing and analytics) a user would generally say they were going to the tip.

3. 'Public conveniences' becomes 'Public toilets'

It’s a very old-fashioned term. Users would search ‘toilet’ over ‘conveniences’.

4. 'Electoral Register' becomes 'Register to vote'

Unless you know about voting or elections, you may not have any idea what an Electoral Register is. Perhaps it’s your first time voting.

5. 'Careers' becomes 'Jobs'

These days “careers” is not a widely used term. The spelling is also easily confused with carers.

6. 'Pay a PCN’' becomes 'Pay a parking fine'

Avoid acronyms! If you work in a role that regularly uses acronyms, it’s easy to forget that people outside of this might not know what you mean. It’s best practice to avoid or include a brief explanation in plain English if you need to use the acronym.

7. 'Refuse/bin look-up' becomes 'Find your bin day / check your collection day'

What would a user say here? You can also do some testing to find out.

8. 'Street cleansing' becomes 'Street cleaning'

Users tend to search ‘cleaning’ instead of ‘cleansing’. Again, user testing is always helpful.

9. ’Recreation ground’ becomes ‘Play area or playground’

“I’m just taking my child to the recreation ground” is not a phrase that is commonly used. 

10. 'FOIs' becomes 'Freedom of information'

Same as with PCN. Avoid acronyms or list the full word and even a brief description in plain language if needed.

3 ways to clarify your terminology

Look at your analytics and site search history

This can be an invaluable resource to helping you clarify what terms are being used and whether your content is being found.

Ask your users

User testing and user research is a great way to clear up any grey areas, and validate the data, to be sure content is written for your user.

Ask your stakeholders

Stakeholder research is a great way to understand the key priorities of your organisation and how to organise these into logical service zones.

5 useful writing resources

  1. How to write well for your audience – A GOV.UK manual
  2. Check how complicated your text is using Hemingway
  3. Use Microsoft Word’s built-in tool to check reading age
  4. Test your content readability with Readable
  5. Check your content’s readability score with Readability Formulas