List of access keys

Checklist for applying our Standard

Big picture elements

1. Is the purpose of the document clear?

Check that the document has:

  • an informative title or subject line
  • been written with a clear purpose in mind
  • made the purpose clear (whether by a purpose statement or other indications in the text)
  • been written with the various standpoints of readers in mind, including the general public for public documents.
2. Does the whole document support the purpose?

Check that the document:

  • is consistent with the purpose
  • includes enough content to fulfil the purpose
  • answers the readers’ likely questions.
  • Consider using tables, examples, overviews, sign-posts, notes, graphics, or other devices if helpful to support meaning.
3. Is the structure and layout of the document clear and logical?

Ensure that the structure and layout helps readers absorb messages by:

  • placing main messages first
  • arranging themes in the order most likely to make sense to readers
  • presenting each section as a set of related ideas
  • using paragraphs to enhance readability and clarity
  • ensuring that each section has no more than five subsections.

For any document, email, etc, other than legislation, check that:

  • the document has a clean, uncluttered look with plenty of white space
  • headings have more white space above them than below
  • bold, italics, and underlining are used sparingly and consistently
  • the document includes appropriate navigation aids (eg, links, headings, hyperlinked tables of contents, page numbers, headers, footers, and summaries).
  • In an electronic document, link to detailed supplementary information instead of including it in full.
4. Are headings useful and do they aid navigation?

Check that headings:

  • use key words placed early in the heading
  • clearly indicate specific topics or summarise main messages
  • work well together
  • appear frequently enough to help readers scan and find specific information easily
  • are reasonably brief (no longer than one line)
  • have a clear and consistent hierarchy.
5. Is the tone consistent and does it support the purpose?

Check that the document:

  • avoids emotive words, jargon, and policy-speak
  • has a professional, helpful, and engaging tone
  • avoids unnecessary complexity
  • is no longer than needed to achieve the purpose and to convey the message.


6. Are sentences short, simple, and precise?

Check that sentences:

  • accurately express the intended meaning
  • use the active voice
  • are phrased positively
  • use narrative style and avoid excessive cross-referencing
  • use conventional word order
  • don’t split verb forms unnecessarily
  • use present tense
  • use punctuation appropriately and consistently
  • avoid suspense.
  • In legislation, check that blocks of text are no more than four lines long.
  • In other documents, check that blocks of text are no more than six lines long.
7. Are sentences focused on one topic?

Check that each sentence:

  • contains a distinct idea
  • avoids mixing conditions and exceptions
  • avoids relative clauses that compromise clarity.


8. Are the words precise and familiar?

Check that the document uses:

  • the simplest words to convey the meaning
  • gender-neutral language
  • consistent terms
  • verbs rather than nouns (“consider” rather than “give consideration to”)
  • definitions that are helpful and are not contrived to create artificial concepts
  • modifiers that are close to the words they modify.

Check that the document avoids:

  • unnecessary words or wordy phrases
  • over-use of noun strings (eg, “special education delivery programme outputs”)
  • double and triple negatives
  • archaic language
  • ambiguous words or phrases.


9. Is the document error-free?


  • spelling and grammar
  • punctuation and capitalisation
  • numbers and numbering
  • references
  • consistency.

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