Challenge: “Translating Governmentese”

Helping turn governmentese into plain, useful language — by reworking a healthcare website’s content to align with the stakeholder demographic education and reading levels.


We saw the writing on wall with this one, so to speak. Prior to launching a statewide healthcare campaign for people living below the poverty level, McFarland expressed concern that much of the target website content (crafted by a government-administration contactor) was written at a substantially complex level – a level that did not correspond with the general-public reading level. Ideally, the site content should have read at a sixth- to eighth-grade level, with a reading clarity score of 60 or higher. All of the campaign advertising drove targeted stakeholders to this website as the gateway to register for the government program. McFarland recommended that a content audit be conducted to determine the reading level of the website pages – and to help our client contact make the case why the website needed to be written for public consumption, rather than in “governmentese”.


The content audit revealed that the homepage (as an example) was written at a 17.1 grade level (with a 10 reading clarity score) – which meant most people would need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree to understand it. Given the program was directed at low-income households, this was a potential concern with getting the target market to engage with the online content and proceed to completing online forms to apply. McFarland shared the report with the agency communication team, which was able to make the case for why the website content needed to be rewritten to align with the key stakeholder population.

Client Feedback

The client was able to use the audit findings to help improve the campaign communication – which resulted in the campaign hitting its targets ahead of schedule and under budget.