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Making Your Website Senior-Friendly

Writing Online Text

Age-related changes in text comprehension can make it harder for older adults to understand written material that is not expressed in a straightforward or concrete manner. Changes in attentional functioning may make it more difficult for older people to stay focused on specific information and eliminate distractions. Many older adults may be unfamiliar with technical language and jargon.

Key: express points straightforwardly, eliminate distractions, and avoid technical language and jargon.

Limit the number of points you make. Stick to 1-5 messages in each section to keep the user focused.

Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Paragraphs should express one main idea. Sentences should be simple and straightforward.

Write in the active voice. The active voice puts the focus on people and actions. Example:

  • Avoid: "Prescription medicines are taken by many older adults."
  • Use instead: "Many older adults take prescription medicines."

Write in the positive. Be especially aware of words that have negative meaning such as “forget,” “until,” and “unless.” Instead of combining them with “not,” rewrite the sentence with a positive word. Example:

  • Avoid: “Don’t forget to take your medicine.”
  • Use instead: “Remember to take your medicine.”

Explain clearly; don’t make people guess what you mean. Be direct. Example:

  • Avoid: "Restaurants that offer senior discounts may be a good choice for older adults who like to eat out."
  • Use instead: "If you like to eat out, go to restaurants that offer senior discounts."

Give specific instructions. Example:

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Exercise every day.

If the instructions have more than one step, number them.

Address your web users by using “you.” A direct instruction like “exercise every day” is one way of writing for your web users, but not every message you want to give is such a direct instruction. Example:

  • Avoid: "No matter where a person is, a sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If someone falls, that person should stay as calm as possible."
  • Use instead: “Whether you’re at home or somewhere else, a sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If you do fall, stay as calm as possible.”

Choose words your web users know. Minimize jargon and technical terms. Write in simple language. For example, to describe a place to exchange messages with other older adults on a website:

  • Avoid: "online community"
  • Use instead: "communicate with others online"

Define unfamiliar terms. If you need to use a term that most older adults do not know, define it when you use it.

Provide summary information. Summarizing information reinforces it and helps with recall.