The 2021 readability scorecard measures, for the first time, the readability of documents and reports produced by Australian Government agencies.
The results are clear: Australian Government agencies use a form of English with overlong sentences and excessive use of the passive voice.
The scorecard shows that when agencies invest in clear writing the readability of their text improves greatly.
Improving readability makes organisations more effective. Readable documents saves the time of organisations – and readers.
Readability is low
The top 3 agencies in our survey were:
- the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, with a readability score of 34.5
- Defence Housing Australia, with a score of 34.3
- the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications with a score of 33.6.
The benchmark score, which no agency met, was 100.
Content is written at a relative advanced grade level
For grade level, Defence Housing Australia had the best score, recording an average of 13.0 across 4 documents. Services Australia was close behind with 13.2, followed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics with 13.7.
Sentences are too long
On sentence length, Defence Housing Australia had the best score, with an average of 21.9% long sentences. Next was the Australian Taxation Office with 25.1%, closely followed by Services Australia with 25.2%.
Government uses the passive voice
The agency that used active voice most was the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources with an average of 85.1% active voice sentences. Next was the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications with 83.4% active sentences and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission with 83.2%.
We analysed 136 documents from 35 agencies – those with 400 or more staff. We also undertook 2 case studies of large agency websites: Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office.
Our website case studies showed the enormous dividends from investing in clear writing. Services Australia was outstanding, with a readability score of 119.3, higher than our benchmark of 100. This was far above the best document in our document survey, which scored 50.8.
What we surveyed
All the 136 documents in our document survey fell below our benchmarks for good readability, to varying degrees.
We assessed the readability of documents using a language analysis platform developed by VisibleThread.
This application measures school grade level, sentence length and percentage of sentences that are active or passive. Based on these metrics we calculated the Ethos CRS Readability Index. The higher the score on this index, the more readable the text. A score of 100 indicates that a document meets recommended readability standards.