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NZ Govt websites failing to reach readability goals

15 Jun 2016

New Zealand has a fair way to go if it wants to reach readability goals on its websites, according to a new report from quality management firm VisibleThread.

The study involved analysis of four New Zealand Government agency websites.

According to the analysis, the New Zealand Government has taken a positive stance on how it should communicate online. It says it aims to communicate in a clear, concise and well-organised way that benefits all citizens.

The New Zealand Government states in its Govt.nz style guide that “our goal is to make things as simple and clear as possible for our users — to make what government does easier to understand.”

However, the survey found:

• 50% of New Zealand Government agency websites failed to achieve the target readability score

• Two out of the four New Zealand Government Agencies achieved acceptable readability score.

• No New Zealand Government websites analysed met the target passive language score of 4%

• On one website over 25% of the sentences contained more than 20 words. None of the websites analysed met the target score of 5%.

• The sentence complexity measure varied greatly between websites. Only one New Zealand Government websites came close to an acceptable score.

In their sample of Government websites, VisibleThread analysed up to 100 pages on each site for these metrics:

• Readability – How readable is the content?

• Passive Language – Active Language communicates clearly. What proportion of sentences is passive?

• Long Sentences – What proportion of all sentences are too long?

• Word Complexity Density – How many complex, hard-to-understand words does the content contain?

They sampled these sites between May 9th and May 15th 2016.

Heroes and Villains

Since they analysed only four New Zealand Government Agency it is not possible to see any trends in the writing quality on New Zealand Government websites. However, it is encouraging to see that two of the four agencies analysed feature in the top 10. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment just missed out on a top 10 place coming in a passable 11th place.

Inland Revenue New Zealand had the highest readability score of the entire list, indicating well constructed content. If they concentrate on shortening sentences, they will further improve.

New Zealand Post trailed the group in 22nd place with long and complex sentences negatively affecting its overall placing.

“The cost benefits achieved by improving clarity on websites and allowing citizens to complete error-free tasks online are significant,” VisibleThread says.

“Website users can self-serve and avoid costlier means of communication, calling by telephone or face-to-face interactions.

“The fact that such a small percentage of Government Websites have reached an acceptable score is disappointing,” the company says.

“However, Visible Thread’s analysis shows that in many cases, agencies can deliver clearer content, if they improve just one of the four key measures,” it adds.

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