"College degree needed" to read many state websites
Environment department's website came last in study of readability
Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30
A review of government websites has claimed a college education is required to understand more than half of them.
Government websites which provide instructions on social assistance and programmes for at-risk youth were found to be hardest to read.
Some 25 core government websites, plus Dublin City Council's website, were tested by consulting group VisibleThread, an Irish company whose software finds poor readability and other issues in documents and websites. The company said 16 of these required a third-level education - which more than half of Irish people do not have - to be understood.
Ranked bottom of the survey overall was the website of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, closely followed by the website of the Department of Justice and Equality.
Their sites lagged significantly behind the next worst performing websites in the rankings, VisibleThread said. Its recommended a complete overhaul of the sites to meet plain English guidelines.
The majority of government websites failed to meet plain English guidelines set out by the State's Clear Language initiative in 2003 and, more recently, the Irish Public Service Reform plan 2014-2016, the company said.
This reform plan mandated: "The public service must simplify the language that it uses when communicating with service users. There must be a stronger focus on, and a commitment to, the use of plain language right across the public service so that application forms and information are more easily understood, thus improving the experience of the customer and reducing the requirement for repeated contact."
VisibleThread's website analysis was undertaken between February 26 and March 14.It measured metrics such as readability, the use of "passive" language, long sentences and word complexity density.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs came bottom of the poll in the long sentences category.
Examples included: "This project will review national and international literature on the participation experiences of seldom heard young people and identify good practice in the field of participation of seldom heard children and young people relevant to the Irish context (including participation of key groups such as Travellers, children and young people with disabilities and children and young people from disadvantaged/vulnerable backgrounds/communities)."
Agencies that ranked highly in the study included the National Children's Hospital, whose website took first place overall for clarity, and the Courts Service, which came second.
The Department of Education and Skills came third, An Post came fourth and Failte Ireland came fifth.
The National Children's Hospital operated the smallest website of those measured, suggesting a close relationship between brevity and readability.
Fergal McGovern, chief executive of VisibleThread, said cost savings could be achieved through better clarity. "Using plain language has been demonstrated to have two clear advantages - better engagement and compliance and cost savings" he said. "When citizens can understand online communication, agencies enjoy increased trust and revenues. Citizens can self-serve and complete tasks online.
"International experience shows that simple actions such as rewriting a tax collection letter have produced major gains in revenue.
"For example, the US Veterans administration revised a letter asking beneficiaries to update contact information. The effort saved $8m in follow-up costs."
Two government agencies are understood to be currently upgrading their websites - the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Communications.
Sunday Indo Business