Challenges in government writing

Maintaining credibility and trust

The public can often be sceptical about statements made by politicians and government spokespeople. This makes it all the more important for government writers to ensure that their communications are credible and trustworthy.

Government communications should be:

  • reliable and well researched – present evidence and sources to make it clear why the information can be relied upon
  • accurate – avoid overselling; do not embroider evidence with speculation
  • transparent – explain decision-making processes, the impact of decisions and potential future directions.
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Readability targets

Government audiences include people with different education levels and people whose first language is not English. So government content is often required to meet specific targets for readability levels. These are generally measured against school grades (see Readability targets for different audiences). The target reading level is often set at lower secondary: years 7–8.

Information can also be presented in alternative forms. Cartoons, videos and Easy Read versions of text can be provided to specific audiences or on websites to aid understanding (see Easy Read and other formats). Government digital content intended specifically for people with reading disabilities is expected to meet the higher accessibility standard (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WCAG] 2.0 AAA), which requires authors to make available a version that ‘make(s) the text easier to read’ if it demands reading skills above lower secondary school level.

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Accessibility standards

Accessibility means that content can be found and understood by users with a wide range of abilities and technological capabilities.

All Australian Government websites must adhere to the international standard of WCAG 2.0 AA and are strongly encouraged to meet the higher standard WCAG 2.1 AA.

The WCAG standards for attaining Levels A, AA and AAA are presented in the WCAG quick reference. More strategies for accessible content and websites can be found in Making content accessible.

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Multicultural audiences

More than 20% of Australian families do not speak English at home (see Understand your audience). Translation of government information ensures that all Australians have access to the information they need. This is particularly important in areas such as public health and safety.

To ensure that translations are as accurate as possible, it is good practice to:

  • use a professional translator
  • choose a translator who provides an editing round to check the translation against the original text
  • engage the translator to recheck the text after it has been put on a website or designed (eg as a brochure)
  • consider using specialist translators for specialist content (eg use expert health translators for medical information).
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Australian Digital Service Standard

Government website services for the general public are expected to conform to the Australian Digital Service Standard. The standard has 13 criteria for best-practice online project management and service delivery:

  • Research to develop a deep knowledge of the users and their context for using the service.
  • Establish a sustainable multidisciplinary team to design, build, operate and iterate the service, led by an experienced product manager with decision-making responsibility.
  • Design and build the product using the service design and delivery process, taking an agile and user-centred approach.
  • Understand the tools and systems required to build, host, operate and measure the service and how to adopt, adapt or procure them.
  • Identify the data and information the service will use or create. Put appropriate legal, privacy and security measures in place.
  • Build the service with responsive design methods using common design patterns and the style guide.
  • Build using open standards and common government platforms where appropriate.
  • Make all new source code open by default.
  • Ensure the service is accessible to all users regardless of their ability and environment.
  • Test the service from end to end, in an environment that replicates the live version.
  • Measure performance against KPIs (key performance indicators) set out in the guides. Report on public dashboard.
  • Ensure that people who use the digital service can also use the other available channels if needed, without repetition or confusion.
  • Encourage users to choose the digital service and consolidate or phase out existing alternative channels where appropriate.

The Digital Transformation Agency website has more information on the rationale for each standard and how to apply it.

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