Imagine an open wiki with universal guidelines for inclusive content style. Evidenced, and iteratively updated. Well for the last 10 weeks I've been working on Sarah Richards’ collaborative Readability Guidelines project from Content Design London to achieve just that.
It’s ambitious and it’s exciting. Content professionals across the globe have been getting together for regular chats about punctuation and screen readers, audience labels and assumptions, plain language and specialist content.
The goal is to find evidence for a set of universal style guidelines for content design that’s fully inclusive. The strategy was to involve as many content, usability, accessibility and other digital professionals as possible in searching for answers to usability questions identified during the previous phase of the project.
410 cross-sector professionals in 17 time zones joined the Readability Guidelines Slack workspace. Content Design London worked with contributors based in New Zealand, Canada, USA, Spain, Ireland, Scotland and England. Our volunteer super-contributors led weekly research discussion sessions of up to 3 topics.We referenced evidence from inclusive design focused organisations including GDS, RNIB, Scope and Nielsen Norman Group. We asked some of our Readability Guidelines questions at the London Accessibility Meetup, and we’re approaching the Digital Accessibility Centre. We looked at academic linguistic studies dating back to the 1970s.
We analysed the discussions from Readability Guidelines Alpha discussions held earlier this year. These are a selection of the questions we wanted to find evidence-based answers for. Altogether there were about 20 specific topics.
Over the next couple of weeks Content Design London will be updating the public wiki to reflect all the learnings from Beta. You can read about our findings along the way in our project updates. Here are some examples of guidance evidenced by the project:
We also discovered that readability best practices, like using plain, simple language, short sentences, active tense, good grammar and accurate punctuation, improves ease of translation for localisation of content.
We’ll look at what’s been sufficiently evidenced in Beta – and see what still needs usability testing.We know Scope and the Digital Accessibility Centre have carried out inclusive design usability testing recently and we’re keen to swop notes with them, so that we’ve got the most up-to-date evidence sources. We also want to speak with RNIB and will be dropping in on WebAIM content style discussions.
When we know what’s outstanding, and are sure we’re not duplicating anything, we’ll plan user testing for the readability questions which carry most impact. Funding will come from Content Design London and any grants we successfully apply to.
No topics are “closed” and the wiki itself is iterative by design. The Slack discussion channels – about 23 – are staying open. You can still join the Slack workspace. We’re encouraging people to keep commenting and sharing evidence there and on the wiki.
If your organisation is carrying out any user testing relevant to the Readability Guidelines topics and questions – from which they would be happy to publicly share findings – please do share these in the content testing channel.
I’ve worked on national charity and UK government content and campaigns and enjoy “making a difference” through the projects I am involved in. However, the universal, inclusive design aims of this project and the international collaboration have made this project feel particularly valuable, exciting and special.We’ve been able to move forward in Beta because of our super-contributors and contributors, who’ve researched topics, led and taken part in discussions. Sometimes you read an organiser saying “we couldn’t have done it without you” and you think, really? But in this case, it’s absolutely true.
Please keep the Readability Guidelines project in mind. If you have a comment you want to make or you know of a past or present usability study that may help answer our readability questions, do join us.
The Readability Guidelines are made to be used. You can access them on the public wiki. As with other best practice guidance, absorb them and apply them to your content design.The wiki is iterative and relies on collaboration to stay current and up to date. Guidance is organised by topic and each has an evidence section and a discussion page. Please add evidence for any updates you make to the guidance and give reasons for your edits on the discussion page so that everyone can understand the changes.
There are several ways to collaborate on the Readability Guidelines. Here are a few things you can do to get involved:
Lizzie is a content consultant at Content Design London, where she runs workshops and training courses. She’s previously worked at GDS and has 15 years’ content experience in the charity, public and private sectors. She is motivated by creating user-focused, inclusive content design and is currently coordinating research for the collaborative Readability Guidelines project. She also writes content UX articles for Prototypr and Digital Drum, and has created a set of writing for web best practice tip cards.