Government web content review: when it was bad it was horrid

ZacWong photo- horrid

I've been doing a web content review "lite" for government web sites in New Zealand, on behalf of Plain English Power. This means taking one web site at a time, viewing some of their content, picking a few pages that look hard to read, and testing their readability.

I copy the main content or the first few paragraphs into a Word document, and use Word to find the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Score. Then I note any page with a score of 40 or under, one which fewer than 40% of adults can read with ease. Ideally, public government information should be at least 60 if not 70 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Score.

I'm busy, so I only spend about 10 minutes maximum on each site.

So far I've checked sites A-D on the NZ Government directory. I've listed 150 pages with low readability. On these pages, 40 is a high reading — plenty have score of 20 or lower! They are seriously bad, and there's no shortage. The erring web sites are frankly appalling. It's obvious no effort has been made to translate long strings of multisyllabic bureaucratic gobbledegook into plain language. The site owners don't care about the public. They are not talking to the public. They are talking to themselves.

At the other extreme are government web sites with excellent content. The owners have worked seriously hard to make the web sites not only comprehensible to the public, but useful. I don't look for bad content here. They deserve applause, and I'm not here to nit-pick, just to assess the problems of government content.

In the middle of the scale sit a lot of government web sites that are readable, but pointless. They have translated the necessary information into short sentences so we can understand it. But they haven't made the information useful to you and me. It doesn't help us perform a task or get access to a government service. It just gives us, in plain and boring language, the basic information required by law.

So, government web sites in New Zealand are just like that brat of a girl:

There was a little girl
and she had a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good
she was very very good,
and when she was bad she was horrid.

I'm very concerned about the horrid government web sites. They aren't tools or communication channels: they are rusty old filing cabinets caught with their drawers open. Their content is a disgrace.

New Zealand Government Directory

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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