New standard for government writing and editing launched in beta

Village hidden - Amund Roed on Unsplash

Despite the best intentions government communication can present a bewildering user experience.

Credit: Hidden village by Amund Roed on Unsplash.

The first digital Australian Government Style Manual, now released in public beta, promises to make government communication a whole lot clearer.

Its creators have taken a digital-first approach to bring the publication into the digital age, bearing in mind that the current Style Manual was published when John Howard was Prime Minister, southern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium Drought, and Nokia’s were the mobile phone of choice.

It is the result of a partnership between the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and Ethos CRS with the final approved version scheduled to go live later this year.

It aims to help writers and editors put people’s needs at the centre of content creation, leading to a simpler, faster user experience.

And it is built around a simple, three-part structure, providing guidance across all forms of government content.

Understanding User Needs

The first part of the digital Style Manual highlights the foundational importance of content design to a person’s ability to find and absorb content easily.

It delves into the process of conducting user research, examines the different ways that people search for information, and highlights the value of matching the written word and the content design with how people actually read. It also highlights the need to remove literacy as a barrier to accessing government services and information.

Format, writing and structure

The second part is broken into five areas:

  • Content formats dives into the different digital mediums available to writers and editors: from blogs and emails, to reports and tables, letters, social media, video and audio.
  • Clear language and writing style focuses on word choice and the use of Plain English, on sentence structure, types of words, and the importance of voice and tone to the user experience.
  • Inclusive language covers off on the particular attention and respect to be shown to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, age diversity, cultural and linguistic diversity, gender and sexual diversity, and people with disability.
  • Structure provides guidance on types of structure, headings, links, lists, paragraphs, text boxes and callouts.
  • Findable content considers the role played by search engines, keywords and search engines, and on-page optimisation.
Style rules and conventions

And the third part of the Style Manual provides guidance across six areas:

  • General conventions, editing and proofreading looks into the processes of editing and proofreading, the use of italics, punctuation and capitalisation, and spelling.
  • Names and terms provides guidance on many different types of names and terms: from Australian place names and government terms, to dates, times and personal names, as well as commercial terms, medical terms, and more.
  • Numbers and measurements looks into the choice of using numerals or words, mathematical relationships, currency, measurements and units, and more.
  • Punctuation marks details the appropriate use of apostrophes and dashes, forward slashes, hypens, ellipses, quotation marks, and many more types of punctuation.
  • Referencing and attribution lays out the reference systems used by government, citing of legal material, and shortened forms used in referencing.
  • Titles, honours, forms of address goes into the niceties of title use and forms of address for academics, diplomats, judges, government officials, royalty, and members of the armed forces.
Your feedback is sought

The DTA and Ethos CRS know that more work is needed on the beta Style Manual and will continue to review the editing, language and content design.

And they also want people to test the Style Manual while it is still in beta and provide feedback so that it can be even more useful when it goes live later this year.

Check out the beta Style Manual and provide your feedback now.