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:

1.1—an informative title or subject line
1.2—been written with a clear purpose in mind
1.3—made the purpose clear (whether by a purpose statement or other indications in the text)
1.4—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:

2.1—is consistent with the purpose
2.2—includes enough content to fulfil the purpose
2.3—answers the readers’ likely questions.

2.4–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:

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

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

3.6—the document has a clean, uncluttered look with plenty of white space
3.7—headings have more white space above them than below
3.8—bold, italics, and underlining are used sparingly and consistently
3.9—the document includes appropriate navigation aids (eg, links, headings, hyperlinked tables of contents, page numbers, headers, footers, and summaries).

3.10—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:

4.1—use key words placed early in the heading
4.2—clearly indicate specific topics or summarise main messages
4.3—work well together
4.4—appear frequently enough to help readers scan and find specific information easily
4.5—are reasonably brief (no longer than one line)
4.6—have a clear and consistent hierarchy.

5. Is the tone consistent and does it support the purpose?

Check that the document:

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


6. Are sentences short, simple, and precise?

Check that sentences:

6.1—accurately express the intended meaning
6.2—use the active voice
6.3—are phrased positively—more »
6.4—use narrative style and avoid excessive cross-referencing—more »
6.5—use conventional word order
6.6—don’t split verb forms unnecessarily—more »
6.7—use present tense—more »
6.8—use punctuation appropriately and consistently
6.9—avoid suspense.

6.10—In legislation, check that blocks of text are no more than four lines long.
6.11—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:

7.1—contains a distinct idea
7.2—avoids mixing conditions and exceptions
7.3—avoids relative clauses that compromise clarity.


8. Are the words precise and familiar?

Check that the document uses:

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

Check that the document avoids:

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


9. Is the document error-free?


9.1—spelling and grammar
9.2—punctuation and capitalisation
9.3—numbers and numbering

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