Reading level

Reading level refers to the user's cognitive ability to read and understand content (not necessarily the speed at which they read). This can vary from person to person for many reasons, including:

  • varied access to education
  • age
  • disabilities or impediments
  • language barriers

People at lower reading levels have difficulty understanding complex sentence structures and difficult or uncommon words. It is best practice to write content at a grade 8 reading level to reach as many people as possible. content standards are as follows:

Type of content Reading level Reason
Emergency or quickly referenced content

Grade 6

Emergency content is typically read in situations where emotions are high or something needs to be addressed quickly.


General content

Grade 8

This is the minimum level that is widely understood and can be easily translated by automated technologies like Google Translate.


Technical content

(e.g. tax information, land use, legal, etc.)

Grade 10-14

Some content must be at a higher reading level because the topic is particularly technical.


How to test reading level

How to lower the reading level

  • Concise:
    • Sentences should be short – around 20 words.
    • Paragraphs should be around 40 and 50 words.
    • Headlines and subheadings should be five-eight words.
  • Simple:
    • Use the simplest, most common form of the word (verb and adverb endings can be confusing).
    • Find synonyms with the fewest syllables.
    • Limit the use of CAPS; All caps can be difficult to read and can be read incorrectly by screen readers.
  • Scannable:
    • Help users scan the important points by using subheadings.
    • Summarize longer posts at the top.
    • Group similar information together in bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Clear:
    • Write for your reader – think about their perspective and background. Make sure headings, subheadings and text is written so they will understand right away.
    • If language is at a high level for a topic that is particularly technical (e.g. land use), start out with introductory paragraph(s) at a lower level, and then move into more technical content.
    • Avoid marketing language, jargon or acronyms your readers might not understand.
    • Write in an informal, conversational style – a friendly tone is easier to read. See also Plain Language Policy/Writing best practices.
    • Be straightforward - Stick to one idea per sentence.
    • Supplement your content with images if it helps users understand the content.

Unusual words and abbreviations

Words and abbreviations that are not commonly used or understood may be difficult for users to understand. Where you cannot provide the definition or explanation in the adjacent content, you should link to the definition list or a definition entry in an online dictionary or glossary. Using words and abbreviations that are not common for your target audience will make it harder for someone to find your content. See search optimization.

Words that depend on pronunciation

The English language has many homonym words (words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings depending on how they're pronounced). Where you cannot use a unique word, you should provide the pronunciation immediately following the word and/or link to a definition in an online dictionary or glossary.


When writing hashtags, capitalize the first letter of each word. For blind readers using a screen reader, this allows the screen reader to read it properly.

  • Wrong: #canadaday
  • Correct: #CanadaDay