Inclusive writing: Accessibility and readability


Accessible writing means making sure all users can read and understand what you write, including users with different mental and physical abilities. It includes the language you use, the structure of the text and the way you organise and present content.

Accessibility is particularly important to those who use assistive technology such as screen readers to help them navigate content. But it also helps everyone understand your writing more easily.

One aspect of accessibility is readability. This refers to how clear and understandable your language is to all audiences.

Accessibility guidance

  • Use clear headings in your writing, and use headings in their logical order. This helps people understand the structure of your content and find what they want more easily.
  • Put meaningful words first in headings. For example, ‘Accessibility guidance’ not ‘Guidance on accessibility’, because it is quicker for users to understand the meaning when they scan.
  • Where appropriate, use numbered or bulleted lists to display information, as these are easier to scan and comprehend than blocks of text.
  • If you want readers to do something, include a simple and accurate ‘call to action’ in your writing.
  • Use bold text for emphasis or headings, rather than italics or underlining. This can be easier for dyslexic people to read.
  • When writing for the web, format headings using heading styles (such as 'heading 2' or 'heading 3'), rather than just using bold text. Correctly styled headings mean that people using screen readers can navigate your content.
  • When writing for the web and adding hyperlinks, make sure the link text describes what it’s linking to. This is clearer for screen reader users and also helps all readers who are scanning a piece of text.
    • For example, use ‘For further guidance on writing accessible web content, check our writing for the web resources’ rather than ‘For further guidance on writing accessible web content, click here’.
    • Use unique text for hyperlinks with different destinations.
    • Try to use the same text for links that go to the same destination page.

Remember that creating accessible content is about more than just writing. It also includes the way you use images, colour and design, and the size, font and formatting of your text.

When writing for the web, accessibility also involves using alt text; captioning videos; and correctly tagging content. Find out more about web accessibility.

Readability guidance

Try to use language that is accessible to people with a lower literacy level or those whose first language is not English.

  • Try to avoid using idioms, jargon, or metaphorical language. These can be difficult for some readers to understand, especially for those whose first language is not English.
    • For example, instead of writing ‘key points’, use ‘important information’ or ‘essential information’ – a non-native English speaker will likely understand ‘key’ to mean something that unlocks a door, and may not have encountered the more metaphorical use.
    • The website has a list of words to avoid and some useful alternatives.
  • Avoid acronyms, initialisms or abbreviations where they are uncommon, unnecessary, ambiguous or only used once. Some readers may not understand them, and they can be hard for screen readers to process.
    • For example, ‘EDI’ should be written as ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’.
    • Avoid writing ‘UoB’ as a shorthand for the University of Bristol.
  • If you need to use an acronym, initialism or abbreviation, write out the term or phrase in full the first time it is used in a piece of writing. Afterwards, you can use the acronym on its own.
    • For example, on first use, write ‘School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS)’.
    • It may be useful to write out acronyms in full whenever they are used in a new page or section, to make sure all readers understand the meaning.
  • Avoid using Latin phrases or abbreviations where possible, as these are not easily understood by some readers. For example:
    • Use ‘for example’ instead of ‘eg’
    • Use ‘that is’ instead of ‘ie’
    • Use ‘note’ instead of ‘nb’
    • Use ‘per year’ instead of ‘per annum’
    • Avoid using ‘etc’.
  • Avoid complex or conditional contractions such as ‘should've’, ‘might've’ and ‘they'd’, as these can be hard for some readers to understand.
    • Negative contractions such as ‘shouldn't’, ‘don't’ and ‘can't’ can also be hard for some readers to understand.
  • Content Design London’s Readability Guidelines website is a useful resource that can help make your writing more readable.
  • You could try using the Hemingway Editor to make your writing clearer.

Further resources

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