All content should be written with a few key style guidelines in mind:
- Write in plain language, understable at a 9th grade reading level.
- Avoid industry jargon (“evidence-based”, “asset-development”, etc.)
- Avoid marketing language or promotional phrasing that seemingly endorses an organization.
More specific recommendations are below.
Friendly, neutral voice
A range of people use our information to navigate social services. We should write content in a friendly and approachable way. We should also avoid any judgmental or biased language that indicates specific preferences for certain life choices or circumstances.
Just the facts
Our content should be focused on verifiable facts about services or resources, rather than the stated intentions of an organization. Many organizations will describe their services as providing some intangible or abstract benefit, but that may or may not actually be true. We should present the facts we know, rather than intended benefits.
For instance, the fictitious organization, Acme Foundation, may state on its website, “Individuals are better prepared to re-enter the workforce after completing this workshop.” That is a subjective and a nearly-unverifiable statement (without some rigorous controlled experiment). We could present the information instead as, “This workshop is about preparing individuals to re-enter the workforce.” While this seems like a subtle difference, in one case we are promoting the organization as being effective, in the latter case we are just describing what it does and letting the help-seeker (or others who have added reviews of the workshop) ultimately decide if it is effective.
Content should be written at approximately a 9th Grade reading level. This is an inexact guideline, but we should keep this target audience in mind when writing information. Can the this be understood by an average 14-year-old?
We believe it’s critical that information be accessible to a wide range of people, with varying levels of literacy and familiarity with industry code words. Rather than saying, “eligibility criteria include enrollment in SNAP,” we could say something like, “must be receiving food stamps to enroll.”
We should keep our vocabulary plain and direct. Many organizations use terms such as “school-based interventions” or “evidence-based confidence-building exercises.” These types of phrases obfuscate the real value of what they’re describing. Whenever possible, stick to specific and transparent phrases that make it really clear what you’re trying to say.
This decision tree explains how we decide whether or not to publish organization or opportunity information: