Transitioning to Service-Oriented Language

In a previous post, I wrote about transitioning content — and why I prefer it over migrating content as it is on an existing site. While our current project is not transitioning anything, we are working on a way to make it easier for City of Austin employees to create — and manage — online content. We believe that if we can improve the workflow, Austin residents will have an easier time finding information online.

A big part of being able to find information on a website is to understand the language it’s written in. As we introduce the new workflow, we are also introducing service-oriented language to the City employees in charge of creating content for the website.

What is Service-Oriented Language?

While service-oriented language is a term used in programming (shout out to all the developers and programmers reading this!), it can also be used as a means of addressing residents. In our case, we want to make sure that people living in the City of Austin can understand what’s on the City’s website. This approach makes it easy for residents to find out what they need to know, and it’s in the details:

  • Not using acronyms for City services or departments,
  • Making it easy for residents to view webpage on their mobile device,
  • Writing in an approachable voice and tone,
  • Keeping the reading level below 8th grade,
  • Breaking blocks of written content up into smaller chunks,
  • Implement an intuitive menu/navigation,
  • And more!

Four examples of other municipalities who are doing a great job of incorporating service-oriented language are:

Obviously this isn’t any where near an exhaustive list, but we’ve chatted with most of these folks and they’ve been a fantastic resource as we’ve been figuring out the next steps.

Shifting from Department-Oriented Language

If service-oriented language focuses on the services available to the residents, then it makes sense that department-oriented language sheds light on the department providing the services. While that is important, we’ve found that most websites with department-oriented language are not easy for residents to understand, and typically include a lot of jargon.

The reason we’re recommending this shift from department-oriented language to service-oriented is based on research- specifically usability testing. Based on conversations, we (and the cities listed above) are hearing from residents that it’s not easy to navigate a website where they don’t understand what the department does. These residents we spoke to don’t have time to browse the website or read a long description — they want to find what they need to know about a service and get on with their lives.

Service-Oriented Language… In Other Languages

The strongest argument for service-oriented language is accessibility. Simple, service-oriented language that speaks to the service is the most accessible for residents. It saves time because people don’t have to try to figure out what the department-specific jargon means and how it affects them.

  • People who utilize adaptive-screen reading technology are able to navigate through pages easily because the content is simple.
  • Regardless of a resident’s educational background, service-oriented language strives to make the content clear for everyone.
  • Service-oriented language makes it easier to translate content into other languages, and therefore easier to access by all residents.

Let’s focus on that last point for a moment. Why should it matter if it’s easy to translate content into another language? Isn’t that why we have Google Translate? Not exactly. I won’t dive too deep into it here today, because this warrants its own post. A very simple way of answering that question, though, is that a translation service specializing in municipal needs can capture the nuances in language and ensure that they are passed on to the residents. Google Translate is better than nothing, but can misinterpret important phrases or instructions. Let’s revisit the first image comparing department-oriented language, and service-oriented language:

Both Google Translate and a translation service would have a tough time creating a clear translation for MBE/WBE. An MBE/WBE is a Minority Business Enterprise or a Woman Business Enterprise, which is unclear to many residents as an acronym, and therefore makes it difficult to translate.

Department jargon is also difficult to translate, and because many departments opt for a lengthy description of what they do — it can be expensive to translate all of that content. It’s our hope that by incorporating service-oriented language into the content workflow several things will be possible:

  • Content will be easier to understand for residents.
  • City employees will start thinking service-first when creating content, decreasing the length of pages.
  • Using the new workflow, it is easier to manage webpages and the content on them- reducing the number of pages on the website.
  • Because there are fewer pages of content to translate, less money is spent and more people are able to access information about City services.

Spending less money to get information to more residents — there’s so much value in service-oriented language that I can’t wait to get started! Follow along here, or by checking out our project page.