Sensible headings

Heading structures, designing accessible and inclusive content, content patterns, and the cost of not using clear language.

Hello there

Welcome to a slightly late, but very much fashionably here now edition of Plain English Weekly, the newsletter for fans of clear language.

I've shared a one-question survey with you for the last two weeks. You can take a look at the results so far to get an idea of what you might collectively like this newsletter to grow into. I'll leave the survey open one more week.

Things in the immediate pipeline:

  • Directory of bookmarks
  • List of complex words and everyday alternatives
  • Training package for teams

This is all going to grow over the next few months, so your support and sharing is very welcome. Many invisible biscuits available as a reward.

Enjoy the links below...


Plain English training
Need someone to introduce the principles of plain English to your team? I run practical workshops where we get hands on with your own actual content – imagine! Email to chat.

Why you should use the correct heading structure in your content

Heading structure really is important for lots of reasons. And I have to tell you, I'm a bit of a stickler for it in Word or Google Docs documents too. If I see headings that are just body text made bold, you betcha I'm applying sensible headings to them instead.

Anyway, I found this slightly stilted but informative video while trawling the headings sections of the writing for GOV.UK manual, like one does.

Example of using everyday instead of complex words

Here is a short example of everyday words in action via the Australian government's style guide. Hang around and you'll find lots of other good information and spiffily presented examples too.

How to design accessible and inclusive content (and why it matters)

A mostly practical post here from the UK Design Institute. It includes a couple of examples, some links out to other useful material and this paragraph:

Writing in plain language makes content easier to read and understand for a wider range of users, including people with cognitive or learning disabilities, non-native speakers, and those with limited literacy skills. This means avoiding complex vocabulary, jargon, and acronyms that may be difficult to understand. You should also stick to short sentences that are easy to read, and use active voice instead of passive voice wherever possible. 

Content design patterns

I've spent some time this week thinking about content design patterns in the context of the UK planning system. I know how to live! If you don't know what the heck that means, this post from 2016 by Natalie Shaw remains a fantastic explainer. In fact, here is the gist:

The idea’s this: when someone struggles for a few seconds over a phrase (or anything), it’s only natural to assume that someone else has been in this predicament before. That’s where the repository comes in – it throws up a solution (designed by consensus), and people never have to suffer alone again.

There is a more recent follow-up post too.

The real cost of not using clear language

A few years ago I was asked by GatherContent to run a webinar on plain English, which I have just discovered is still online. However, the one I'm linking you to in the title here is by Christine Cawthorne, who is ace and runs an online community for content folk. Both are part of a large library of webinars that you can go and get stuck into at your leisure (if you give them your email address)

"Headings help users and search engines to read and understand text. For example, they act as signposts for the readers, making it easier for them to figure out what a post or page is about. Headings also define which parts of your content are essential and show how they’re interconnected."

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