This section outlines principles and techniques to ensure our content is easy to understand and inclusive of everyone’s lived experiences.
You should always write in a way that helps people find what they need quickly and understand it quickly. Plain language makes it easy for new and existing users to understand your products and can reach a wider audience.
Plain language has also been proven to increase customer compliance, reduce complaints and errors, improve sales, and reduce costs. Learn more about the business benefits of plain language.
Common, simple words and phrases help with accessibility and SEO, and are more easily understood by readers who don’t speak English as their first language. Everyday words are also generally shorter, so they take up less space on mobile devices.
Get rid of
In order to
In the event that
In regard to
Make a payment
Active sentences are shorter and more straightforward than passive ones. They are more easily understood by ESL speakers and easier to remember by people relying on screen readers and memory. While there are times when the passive voice is appropriate, a quick way to shorten and simplify a sentence is to switch from passive to active voice.
Our Grammar and mechanics section has more information on active voice and passive voice construction.
Hidden verbs are verbs that have been turned into a noun. This construction leads to more passive, indirect sentences. Hidden verbs also use more words and make sentences longer than they should be. When writing or proofreading your content, think about whether a noun construction could really be simplified into a verb.
With the exception of
Is applicable to
Leave a review
Keep your content conversational by writing in the present tense. Present tense is both simple and direct, and is the easiest way to communicate information or instructions that users need to act on. While context matters, writing in future or conditional tenses are more confusing for users or require more time to understand.
When you write content in a conversational way, it sounds natural. Think about how to explain or describe something if you had to say it out loud — this is usually a good approach to ensuring your writing is conversational.
Using names or third-person pronouns like “he” or “she” can be confusing for users when they want to understand instructions or important information. To keep things simple, address the audience as “you”. When you directly address your users, they’re able to visualize and relate to the content.
When your writing is concise, it’s easier for your audience to read and understand your message. Keeping it short is all about numbers; follow these recommended limits:
Contractions keep content simple and direct. Since they are commonly used, contractions are also good for accessibility.
However, contractions should also be used appropriately. Negative and conditional contractions, such as won’t and could’ve, can be harder to understand for people who have reading disabilities or who speak English as a second language.
The negative word “not” can also be more clear in certain contexts, such as warning labels or instructions where it’s important to emphasize “Do not…”.
Our Grammar and mechanics section has more information on best practices for using contractions.
Jargon can intimidate, annoy, and confuse users. If words are specific to a field or require specialized knowledge, you can alienate your audience from your content. Be mindful of language that refers to internal processes and legal copy. If you need to use a Thumbtack-specific term because there is no alternative, define it in context.
Organize content in the order in which users would need the information. If they have to read a sentence more than once to understand it, consider if the sequence of information needs to change.
Tip: For instructions, use the model “to do this…do this”. It generally creates shorter content, and it puts the information in the right order so it’s easier for the reader to get to the information they need, if they need it.
Headers are an effective way to structure content. A good header clearly communicates what the following content will be about, breaks up the content, and helps users scan and find information quickly. Headers are also important when using assistive technology to parse information.
Tip: Headings are a good way to check if content is organized logically. A quick test is to remove all body copy, and read the headers on their own. If you can still get a general idea of the topic and sequence of information, your headers are effective.
Our Grammar and mechanics section has more information on how to format headers and header tags.
A list can reduce word count, and make content easy to scan and remember. List content should use parallel construction and grammatical structure (i.e. all verbs with same ending, all adverbs, same tense, etc.). If it’s important to order the information in a sequence, use a numbered list.
Active sentences are:
Content should be written at a Grade 8 reading level or lower. This makes your writing clear and concise, while still sounding sophisticated for a wide audience.
Readability tools determine your content’s reading level. They check elements such as sentence length, comprehension, and complexity, and give scores or grades for your content. Use the following websites and apps to check your content’s readability the next time you write:
Accessible language allows everyone to read and understand content, regardless of their abilities. Use person-first language to put a person before their disability, while respecting their individual differences.
A person with a disability
A disabled or differently abled person, handicapped person, physically challenged, special, special needs, mentally incapacitated/ill
A person who uses a wheelchair
A wheelchair-bound person
A person/people with complete or nearly complete vision loss
experiencing vision loss
A blind person
(Some catch-all terms have histories of being used to discriminate)
Feeling frustrated about...
Feeling depressed about...
Anti-racist content includes diverse perspectives that are different from our own. It’s important that our writing never elevates or excludes any one group over another.
Historically underrepresented groups or people of color
Minority/minorities, visible minorities
Discontinued, legacy, defunct, exempt, excluded, special case, special privilege, etc.
Grandfather, grandfathered, grandfathering (verbs), and grandfather clause (noun)
Long time no see
Sorry, something went wrong
No can do
Authority or expert
Guru or ninja
Native to the operating system or built-in feature
Gender-neutral language is important so our words don’t enforce biases and stereotypes based on sex and gender.
Parent or parents
What are your pronouns?
Prefer not to say / self-describe / respond
What are your preferred pronouns?
Other (in forms that collect personal data)
LGBTQ+ community, gay, lesbian, bisexual /pansexual, transgender,transsexual, they /them/their
Homosexual or the wrong pronoun
Men and women
Woman/women (this is inclusive of trans women)
They/their/them (acceptable gender-neutral singular pronouns)
Him and/or her
He and/or she
Any representative name
(These names are typically used to identify anonymous people in court cases, police warrants, and violent crimes.)
This could apply to any position, role, or title that is a gendered word.