Ways to improve your content

Writing for users in a way that they understand will improve your service. 

Users are affected by how we say things: the language, tone, accessibility, and inclusivity of our content.  

Content can make or break a service. It can be the difference between people understanding a service or a product, or not. 

Good content also helps your organisation achieve its aims. 

When people understand information and access services easily, they have a better relationship with your organisation. They may not need to contact you by phone or make a complaint. 

Helping people to solve their problems online also saves your staff precious time. It is more cost-effective than other methods of delivering a service, such as by phone or in person.

This guide is also available as a presentation:

Write for user needs 

Writing for a user need always makes sure that the content has a purpose and that it solves a problem for your users. 

This is the main difference between writing content and designing content. Being a content designer means working from user needs.  

These user needs will have been found in user research. As a content designer, you can do your own desk research. If you have access to a user researcher, they can help you to do more in-depth research to find out what problems your users have, and what support your users need to solve their problems. 

Learn more about user needs 

Find which words your users are using 

By learning about the words and phrases that your users already use, you can create content in a relevant way that they can understand. 

This helps to name your content correctly so people can find it. It also makes sure that you’re using the same terminology that a user is familiar with and comfortable with. 

The best way to hear and understand the language your users are using is by conducting user research. 

This research can take many forms, including: 

Using social listening tools and tactics such as conducting a boolean search to read the language and content your users use when discussing a topic. 

Google processes around 8.5 billion searches per day (Internet Live Stats, 2022). You can use keywords and search data to see what language people use when making a search. 

Crucially, keyword research can also tell you if content cannot solve a user’s problem. If someone isn’t looking for the topic online, it’s unlikely that the problem can be solved by online content. 

Tools to find research keywords 

Learn more about keyword research 

Use plain language 

Using plain language makes sure you meet more users’ needs because more people will understand your content.  

It has been explained like this: “it’s not dumbing down, it’s opening up”. 

This can be difficult when subject matter experts write content.  

Consider that, to a social media manager, terms like ‘hashtag’, ‘impression’ or ‘retweet’ would be everyday language. To someone new to social media, this is language that doesn’t mean anything.  

Readability and reading scores 

Writing for a low reading score can help to make sure your content is more inclusive and easier to read.  

A reading score is a guide to follow. Following a reading score is rarely to the disadvantage of users with a higher level of literacy. However, testing your content is the only way to make sure that your content is suitable for your audiences. 

Don’t use idioms, clichés, jargon, slang, and euphemisms 

Below is a list of definitions of what these things are: 

Idioms are expressions that do not have a literal meaning.  

Clichés are expressions that are so common and overused that they do not impart any real impact on your sentence.  

Jargon is the specialised, often technical, language that is used by people in a particular field, profession, or social group.  

Slang is the informal language of conversation, text messages, and other casual social communication among friends.  

Euphemisms are milder words or phrases used to blunt the effect of more direct or unpleasant words or phrases. 

If you avoid using these in your writing, it will be clearer, more inclusive and easier for people to understand.  

Use acronyms sparingly 

In public sector services, it is rare for people interacting with a service to understand acronyms where they are used. 

Grammarly defines an acronym as:  

“a specific type of abbreviation that forms a pronounceable word from the first letter or syllable of each word in a phrase. For example, the word LASIK is an acronym for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.” 

Only use acronyms when the acronym is more commonly known than the words they stand for. They are already inclusive and easier to understand. Some examples of these are: 

Avoid using any other acronym where possible. It adds to the cognitive load for the person trying to understand the content. 

Readability tools 

Learn more about readability 

Structure and format your content 

Structure and format text to direct users to the content that’s relevant and most important to them. 

Online, people read in different ways. This often involves scanning to find the most relevant information for them. It very rarely involves reading he entire content of a page. 

Public services can often be complex with a lot of information. But there are things that you can do to simplify them for your users. 

Only write the content that the user really needs to solve their problem. This may not be everything you think they need. Anything else is internal for your organisation. 

Content tips 

Avoid walls of text. If your content looks like a wall, it needs to be broken up. 

Use subheadings to clearly break up your content and help people to navigate to the information that’s relevant to them. 

Bulleted lists or numbered lists help to get to the point and break up content.  

Short sentences and paragraphs are easier read and understand.  

Write inclusive and unbiased content 

Writing content in an inclusive and unbiased way will make it meet the needs of a diverse set of users. 

It’s easy to write from our own experiences and perspectives. This can often make people who are not like us feel excluded by our writing. 

Always ask, never assume 

When we write about people, we should not make any assumptions.  

When possible, we should ask the person we’re writing about how they would prefer to be described. 

Write for context 

When we write about a person or people, find out as much as we can about their context, so that we can fully understand and reflect their lived experience.  

A person’s context may be related to their race, gender, or life experience. It can also be someone dealing with grief, mental health issues or money worries. 

Write with care, sensitivity, respect and accuracy.  

Tools to check the inclusivity of your content 

Read more about inclusive language 

Don’t use frequently asked questions 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) will rarely help you to meet your users’ needs. 

They are often easier to write but here’s plenty of evidence to show that FAQs are not helpful for users. 

Alternatives to frequently asked questions 

Make sure that you find which words your users are using. This, alongside having a search function on your website, will make sure that your content can be found easily. 

Learn more about frequently asked questions 

Testing your content  

Usability testing 

Usability testing helps you to understand how people use an existing product or service.  

This method is most useful for: 

Conduct usability testing 

When running usability testing, you should: 

Chris Sutton, a user researcher who previously worked at the Welsh Local Government Association, wrote this guide for conducting a one-hour usability testing session

Highlighter testing for content  

Test content with highlighter testing. It is a quick and easy way to get feedback on your content and how it makes people feel. 

How to do highlighter testing 

To test the content, you give a piece of content to a group of users and ask them to highlight the text.  

You can use different colours of highlighter to understand different emotions, for example: 

When you have collected all the responses, you have a clear idea of how the content has made people feel and should have some clear themes and areas to work on. 


This type of testing can be done online using a tool such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs.  

It is also effective when the page is printed, and people complete the task physically.  

Learn more about highlighter testing 


A crit is when a group of people get together to talk about, share and improve a product. 

They are used to:​ 

Rules of a crit session

Learn more about crits 

Card sorting  

Card sorting is a great way to understand how users group content. This method can help structure a website. 

How to card sort 

Card sorting can be done using physical cards or cards on a screen (such as in Mural or Miro).  

Each card is labelled with a concept or word and the participant is asked to organise the cards in a way that makes sense to them.  


When testing the structure of your website. If most participants place the card labelled “hours of operations” under “services,” rather than under “locations,” then it makes sense to design the site with hours as a subheading under services.  

Learn more about card sorting 

Tree testing 

Tree testing – also called tree-jacking – is a great way to define the hierarchical structure of information. 

This method of testing can be useful to: 

You could use it to test a whole website or help you to understand the information architecture of a service.  

How to do tree testing  

Tree testing involves: 

  1. showing someone a starting point to complete a task 
  2. asking them where they would click to help them reach their goal 
  3. track the journey the person would choose to travel, from the first page to complete the task 

Learn more about tree testing 

More about content, research and testing