Standard for Public Code

Use plain English

Requirements

  • All code and documentation MUST be in English.
  • Any translation MUST be up to date with the English version and vice versa.
  • There SHOULD be no acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/domain specific terms in the codebase without an explanation preceding it or a link to an explanation.
  • The name of the codebase SHOULD be descriptive and free from acronyms, abbreviations, puns or branding.
  • Documentation SHOULD aim for a lower secondary education reading level, as recommended by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.
  • Any code, documentation and tests MAY have a translation.

Why this is important

  • Makes the codebase and what it does understandable for a wider variety of stakeholders in multiple contexts.
  • Helps with the discoverability of the codebase.
  • Can help you meet the European Union accessibility directive, which requires most public sector information to be accessible.

What this does not do

  • Make explanations of the codebase’s functionality understandable.
  • Make your organization’s jargon understandable without an explanation.

How to test

  • Check that translations and the English version have the same content.
  • Validate that no unexplained acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/domain specific terms are in the documentation.
  • Test the documentation for grammar using Grammarly.
  • Test the documentation for readability using Hemingway text editor.
  • Ask someone outside of your context if they understand your content (for example, a developer working on a different codebase).

Policy makers: what you need to do

  • Frequently test with other management, designers and developers in the process if they understand what you are delivering and how you document it.

Management: what you need to do

  • Try to limit the use of acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/domain specific terms in internal communications in and between teams and stakeholders.
  • Be critical of documentation and descriptions in proposals and changes - if you don’t understand something, others will probably also struggle with it.

Developers and designers: what you need to do

  • Frequently test with policy makers and management if they understand what you are delivering and how you document it.

Further reading