Human Services pioneering Plain English with gold certification

Human Services website

The Department of Human Services is making it easier for people to find the information they need.

The Australian Plain English Foundation has given the department’s website gold certification, scoring it higher than any other website they’ve evaluated.

The Foundation lifted its gold certification target from 80% to 85% in recent years, because research shows that public expectations around website usability have lifted. The Human Services website still achieved the certification, scoring 88% in its 2018 review.

The Foundation tested the website against 13 areas to measure how easy it is to find and understand information.

Before the review, expert staff at the department looked at the website’s design, improved the search function, and tested usability.

The team also reviewed 100 payments and services pages and re-wrote more than 140,000 words. Specialist writers and an editorial team made sure the format and structure of the site met the audience need.

The Plain English Foundation found the website on the whole is now “so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information”.

Chief Website Editor Julie Watkins-Lyall said the aim was to keep customers at the centre of everything they do.

“Our website gets more than 90 million unique visits a year, from people with diverse backgrounds and reading abilities,” Julie said.  

“People are using the website six million times a month to manage their business with us so we have to make sure they can find and understand the information they need.

“Access to information is a basic human right. We must make sure our information and services are accessible to all Australians, including those with disabilities and special needs.”

Chief Website Editor
Julie Watkins Lyall, Department of Human Services Chief Website Editor.

To make sure the department keeps its gold standard, each piece of content has to pass several tests. Communication specialists and subject matter experts develop website content, with a final check by the website editorial team before it’s published.

Staff also use sophisticated programs that monitor data and user sentiment to ensure the website is meeting audience needs. When it isn’t, they make appropriate changes.

As well as improving the website, the department is rolling out a broader Plain English Policy,” Julie said.

“The policy encourages all staff to use simple and clear communication instead of complicated government language.”