Thursday, July 03, 2008

Less words, more pictures = better government

One of the biggest issues I've seen in government websites is excessive use of words.

Government agencies often treat each website page as a stand-alone fact sheet. This means they err on the side on completeness, leading to wordiness.

Most of us have seen the research. People don't read wordy, jargon-filled pages - they skim.

People prefer web pages with fewer words, with the option of drilling down to more depth if they need it.

The web is good at this. It's called linking.

All of us have good reasons for our websites being wordy,
  • The communications team doesn't understand how to write for the web
  • The legal team made us put in those extra (really big) words
  • The concept is very complex and people may not understand without details
  • My SES made me do it!

It's time to face the music

Why are government websites wordy?

Because website content managers let them become wordy.

As website content managers we are the custodians of what appears on the pages of our websites.

When people want to write long and involved content, it's our responsibility to advise and support them in making the text accessible, readable and effective for the online channel.

We should advise them when other approaches would work better than words - images, animations, audio or video.

They don't need to learn how to write for the web - we do.


  1. You seem to have a real issue with how the government deals with this channel. Why don't you work in the private sector versus the public sector? Maybe there you wouldn't have so many issue with the executive teams.

  2. Hi anonymous,

    I've spent many more years working in the private sector than in the public sector and found a wide range of ability in executives, managers and staff across both.

    I've met some extremely talented, ethical and able people in the public sector and have been fortunate enough to work with, and learn from, a number of them.

    One of my basic beliefs is that people don't get better by sitting back and simply doing what they've always done - I expect myself, my team, my peers and my superiors to continually grow - to do things better each time, to learn through doing (and sometimes failing), to behave ethically and to be accountable for their actions.

    I don't have any particular issues with executive teams (or any other groups) within the public sector, I simply challenge them to think outside the square and compare themselves against private organisations as well as public ones.

    As they are leaders within the public service I look for leadership, not only management.