Use plain English
English is the de facto language of collaboration in software development. However, some contexts require languages other than English. Therefore, a codebase can have a set of authoritative languages, including English.
Public sector information needs to be accessible to all its constituents. Plain and simple language makes the code and what it does easier to understand for a wider variety of people.
Translations further increase the possible reach of a codebase. Language that is easy to understand lowers the cost of creating and maintaining translations.
- The set of authoritative languages for codebase documentation MUST be documented.
- English MUST be one of the authoritative languages.
- All codebase documentation MUST be up to date in all authoritative languages.
- All source code MUST be in English, except where policy is machine interpreted as code.
- All bundled policy MUST be available, or have a summary, in all authoritative languages.
- There SHOULD be no acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/language/domain specific terms in the codebase without an explanation preceding it or a link to an explanation.
- Documentation SHOULD aim for a lower secondary education reading level, as recommended by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.
- Providing additional courtesy translations of any code, documentation or tests is OPTIONAL.
How to test
- Confirm that codebase documents which languages are authoritative.
- Confirm that codebase documentation is available in English.
- Confirm that translations in authoritative languages have the same content.
- Confirm that source code is in English, or confirm any non-English source code is policy or terms with preceding explanations.
- Confirm all policy is fully translated or has a summary in all authoritative languages.
- Check that no unexplained acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/language/domain specific terms are in the documentation.
- Check the spelling, grammar and readability of the documentation.
Public policy makers: what you need to do
- Frequently test with other managers, developers and designers in the process if they understand what you are delivering and how you document it.
Managers: what you need to do
- Establish which languages are authoritative for codebase documentation, citing relevant policy if applicable.
- Ensure there is staffing or budget to provide translation for authoritative languages.
- Try to limit the use of acronyms, abbreviations, puns or legal/language/domain specific terms in internal communications in and between teams and stakeholders. Add any such terms to a glossary and link to it from the places they are being used.
- 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 managers if they understand what you are delivering and how you document it.
- Ask someone outside of your context if they understand the content (for example, a developer working on a different codebase).
- If there are both required authoritative translations and “best effort” courtesy translations, then ensure that it is clearly documented which category each translation belongs to.
- Meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2, Guideline 3.1.5 Reading Level by W3C makes text content readable and understandable.
- The European Union accessibility directive by the European Commission, is an example of regulation requiring high accessibility.
- Definition of plain language by United States General Services Administration.