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Writing style

Content should be easy to read so people can scan the page quickly and find the information they need.

How users read

Users typically read web pages fast, sometimes skipping content, as they generally want to complete a service as quickly as possible. Find out more about how users read on the web.

Writing for digital is different to writing for print. Content must be user-focused, scannable and accessible across all devices.

It's important to know your audience - understand what they are interested in and use the same terms and phrases they do when searching for information.

Plain English

We use these words every day.

Writing in plain English means using simpler and more direct language and improves readability for all users.

How to write in plain English

  • Avoid jargon so the user can understand the content easily.

  • Use active voice - not passive.

  • Use the shorter, plain English word, term, sentence and paragraph over the longer.

  • Minimise punctuation. Use several short sentences instead of a long sentence broken up with punctuation.

  • Aim for a reading level of age 9.


Readability is about how easy it is for a user to understand text. Complex information on our website can confuse people and is a barrier to accessing our services.

Content with a good readability level helps users understand what they need to do. This includes users with lower comprehension skills.

Aim to make content as readable as possible. This makes it more accessible for everyone, not only users with lower literacy skills.

Aim for a reading level of age 9. This would be someone who is in Primary 5 or 6.

Even if you aren't able to achieve an age 9 reading level, the more readable you can make content, the better it is for everyone.

Learn more about readability on the Scottish Government website.

Learning disabilities

We should remember that people with some learning disabilities read letter by letter. They tend to spend longer reading and sounding words, unlike people who don't have a disability, who tend to bounce off words.

People with learning disabilities also may not fully understand a sentence if it's too long.

By using plain English, we can help our users understand sentences of around 20 to 25 words.


Our modern 'tone of voice' means we should be:

  • Efficient

This means writing clearly and concisely, with a purpose and using positive language.

  • Helpful

We should always be relevant, engaging and empathetic.

  • Open and trustworthy.

Everything we write should be clear, factual and truthful.


Use the active voice (subject-verb-object) rather than passive. In an active sentence, the person doing the action comes first, followed by the action, then the object. This helps them understand the content quicker and easier, as it gets straight to the point.

Passive voice can send the reader backwards. It can make it difficult to know who did what.

Example of active voice:

  • The committee (subject) campaigned (verb) to lower obesity (object).
  • We (subject) accepted (verb) your application (object).

Example of passive voice:

  • The lowering of obesity was campaigned for by the committee.
  • Your application was accepted by the service.

You can use passive voice if you can't specify the 'do-er' of an action.

Example of passive voice:

  • The full-time role was approved in June.


Address the user as 'you' where possible. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to residents and businesses to get involved or take action, for example:

'You can report a problem with a footpath online', or 'Pay your car parking fine'.


  • 'you' and 'your' in the answer (the site is talking to the site visitor)
  • 'we' whenever possible to keep the tone conversational. Avoid referring to services or teams unless it is vital to the customer for the information they're reading or for them to access the service.
  • 'we' and 'our' for the organisation that is answering the question.

Don't use 'I' or 'my'.

Avoid third person nouns (North Lanarkshire Council's Money Advice Team) and pronouns (he, she, it and they).


Like this:

  • Tell us if you have trouble paying your rent.

Not this:

  • If the tenant is having difficulty paying their rent, the customer services hub can provide further guidance.

When you describe a third party that carries out work on behalf of North Lanarkshire Council, you should either reference them directly or use 'we'. Don't use 'North Lanarkshire Council'. For example, you should write 'We clean your streets regularly' or '(supplier) clean your streets regularly on our behalf', but you shouldn't write 'North Lanarkshire Council cleans your streets regularly'.


We explain all unusual terms on This is because you can understand six-letter words as easily as two-letter words - if they're in context.

Sometimes, you can read a short word faster than a single letter - if the context is correct.

Not only are we giving full information, we're speeding up their reading time. We're allowing them to understand in the fastest possible way. This is great for users who are impatient to complete a service in a hurry.

In transactions you need to give people context and the information they are expecting. This helps them get through it faster.

Plain English words and terms

Instead of... Try using...
Accordingly so
Acquire Get
Additional more, extra
Advancing Improving
Advise help, tell, let you know
agenda (unless for a meeting) Plan
Align join, adjust, rearrange, bring together
Alternative different, other
Amenities (the name of the item you're referring to, like 'toilet')
Appropriate right, best
Assistance Help
Avoid try not to
Beneficial useful, helpful
Collaborate work with
Combat Reduce
Commit (specify what we're actually doing)
Commence Begin
complete (a form) Fill in
Completion End
comply with follow, do
components parts, options, sections, pieces
consequently so, as a result
Consider think about, look at
Construct build, set up, put together
Convenient handy, good (when related to time)
Counter oppose, to be against
Currently now, at the moment
Deliver Make
Deploy send, start, begin
Dialogue talk to, speak to
Discuss talk about
Drive lead, build, create
due to because, because of
Empower let you
Enable let you, (emphasise what you can do)
Endeavour Try
end user (say who the person actually is)
Enquire Ask
Enquiry question, query
Ensure make sure
Exhibit Show
Facilitate help, make
Focus to be about, target
foster (unless related to children) create, make
Frequently Often
Furthermore also, besides
Generate create, make
going forward from now on, in the future
help minimise cut, reduce, lessen, lower
Henceforth from now, from this time
However but, although
Identify find, spot, pick out
impact (verb) (say what it actually does, like 'pollution destroys the environment')
in excess of over, more than
in order to to, so you can
in the event of when, if
Incentivise encourage, motivate
Incorrect Wrong
Incorporate include, join, merge
increase (verb) go up, rise
Indicate Show
individual(s) person, people
Inform tell, let you know
initiate (verb) Start
Integrate bring together, join
Invalid wrong, doesn't work
it is important to note please remember
Key main, important
land (verb) come to, arrive
leverage (unless used in finance) use, influence
Liaise meet, work with, talk to
May Might
Member Councillor
Moreover besides, plus
Notify tell, let you know
Obtain Get
Offer Give
one-stop shop place, centre for different services
Overarching main, important
Possess have, own
Previous Last
Principal main, first
progress (as a verb) Improve
Promote Encourage
provided that if, as long as
Purchase Buy
qualify for can get
Receive Get
Reimburse repay, pay back
relating to About
Require Stay
review (verb) check, read, look at
ring-fence protect, set aside, exclude
Robust strong, can withstand challenge
Select choose, pick
slim down reduce, remove, go down
Streamline improve, make more efficient
Strengthen improve, build up
such as Like
Suitable Right
Tackle reduce, stop, prevent
Therefore So
Transfer switch, swap, change, move
Transform (say what you're actually doing, like 'changing', 'improving', etc.)
Upon On
Utilise Use
Verify check, confirm
Very (use the adjective on its own)
Via by, with, through

For a full list of plain English alternatives, please refer to the Plain English Campaign's A to Z of alternative words.

Page last updated:
15 Nov 2022

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