With these eight additional best practices, further strengthen your legal information — by making it easier to find, easier to understand, and more likely to be used.

Strengthen your process

9. Address an unmet need — and avoid duplication

Making sure your intended audience needs the information — and that the information isn’t already available — increases the likelihood it will be used and be effective.

Identify the need

Before you do anything else, pinpoint the need you’re trying to address. Identify the legal issue, whom it affects, and how. Don’t assume you have to do original research. Clicklaw includes research on legal needs in the “Reform & Research” section, under “Legal needs & innovative solutions”.

Assess what currently exists

Search Clicklaw, a comprehensive collection of legal information produced by hundreds of organizations, to see if similar resources already exist. Clarify the gap you seek to fill. Is it the subject? The format? The reading level of the information? The audience you’re trying to reach?

Identify how you will meet the need

To make information truly accessible, it needs to be tailored to the target audience. Clarify how your information can best reach your intended audience and be useful to them. Your choice of format or reading level or tone might be what distinguishes your information from what is currently available. Here are ways your information might be uniquely accessible to your intended audience:

  • It addresses a subject not covered elsewhere.
  • It is aimed at an audience not addressed elsewhere — for example, it is aimed at helpers rather than people experiencing the issue directly.
  • It features a reading level not used elsewhere.
  • It features a level of depth not used elsewhere — for example, it is in-depth information, and only basic information is available.
  • It features a tone or perspective not used elsewhere.
  • It is in a language not available elsewhere.
  • It is in a format your audience favours and not available elsewhere — print or video, for example.
  • It features design elements your audience favours and not used elsewhere — extensive use of visuals, for example.

Build on the work of others

If information exists that closely but not exactly meets what you think your audience needs, consider approaching the organization that created it. For example, your audience may prefer information in a different format than what’s currently available. You might ask the creators if they’ll let you adapt their information for your audience.

10. Establish success measures

Success measures tell you if your information is reaching your intended audience and if it’s having the impact you seek.

Identify key goals to measure

Success measures indicate if your goals for a project or resource are being achieved. For example, if your goal is to help people get a government benefit, and your project is to produce online information, you can measure the number of people accessing the information and the extent to which it helped people take action.

Measure reach

For online information, to measure the reach of your information, you can track users and sessions using a free tool like Google Analytics. A common definition of a session is “a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame.”

Measure impact

Success measures revealing the impact of your information on your audience can be a powerful tool with your funders, board of directors, and community. For example, if your goal with the information is to increase the knowledge of your audience, you could ask users if the information increased their understanding of the issue.

To get started with measurement, take small steps

Success measures are ideally established at the start of your project. But if they haven’t been, it’s never too late to start measuring success. Start by identifying one or two goals you want to assess, and choose measurement activities you think you can realistically manage.

“The [noun] was easy to use.”
1 strongly disagree / 2 disagree / 3 neither agree nor disagree / 4 agree / 5 strongly agree

“The information increased my understanding of a legal issue.”
1 strongly disagree / 2 disagree / 3 neither agree nor disagree / 4 agree / 5 strongly agree

“The [noun] helped me identify a next step to take with a legal issue.”
1 strongly disagree / 2 disagree / 3 neither agree nor disagree / 4 agree / 5 strongly agree

More tips

Community Legal Education Ontario’s Better Legal Information Handbook: Practical Tips for Community Workers has a section on “evaluating your information” that offers practical tips for planning and gathering success measures.

11. Test with your audience — and include them in the development process

Testing with your audience can tell you if your information is understandable and easy to use. Involving audience members in the development process can also help you assess their needs, and encourages them to champion your information.

Test your information with your audience

How understandable is your information? How easy is it to use? How useful is it? To help you answer these questions, test your information with your audience. Testing will also help you learn if you have offended anyone with your information. For example, testing can reveal if the tone, the words, or the pictures inadvertently exclude people.

Test in ways that are manageable

User testing does not have to be expensive or complicated. It can be as simple as showing your information to a few members of your target audience. Testing with five people will tell you most of what you can learn by testing with larger numbers.

Test in ways that work for you

You can do individual testing, showing your information to someone and asking them questions. Or you can have them talk out loud as they try to complete tasks based on the information. Another approach is to bring members of your target audience together for a structured discussion. If you don’t have a direct connection to the intended audience, you can connect with other groups, such as community-based agencies, that do have direct and regular contact with your intended audience.

Test throughout the development process

Let your audience test your information through all stages of development, not just at the end.

Involve your audience in the development process in other ways

You can also invite audience members to be advisors as you develop your information. Doing so can help you shape your information to more fully meet audience needs. And it can encourage them to champion the information with others in your target audience.

User testing guides

Among the many excellent guides on doing user testing are Legal Aid BC’s Reaching Your Readers: A Field Testing Guide for Community Groups, a classic on planning your own field testing of information.

Usability.gov has an extensive collection of tools to make digital content easier to use and more useful, including best practices guides on running a usability test and conducting a focus group.

More tips

Community Legal Education Ontario’s Better Legal Information Handbook: Practical Tips for Community Workers has a section offering tips for planning and conducting usability testing.

12. Edit your language for clarity and simplicity

Clearly communicated ideas are easier to understand and more likely to be used.

Have the information reviewed for plain language

Doing so will help you communicate in language people understand.

Set a helpful tone

Use a conversational tone. Avoid using a legal or bureaucratic tone.

Speak directly to your audience

Use “you” and “we.” They make the information more personal and draw in your audience.

Keep it short

Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Aim for an average sentence length of 15 words. Aim for one idea per paragraph.

Keep it to the point

Include only information that helps people do what you want them to be able to do. Leave out details that don’t help or may distract.

Pick the right words

Use verbs rather than the noun or adjective forms — for example, “manage” rather than “management of.” Use words the audience knows. Define difficult but necessary words (words people need to know to navigate their situation).

Tip Do use Do not use
Use verbs
“education of”
Prefer the active voice
“You can cancel a door-to-door contract within 10 days.”
“A door-to-door contract can be cancelled by the consumer within 10 days.”
Pick words the audience knows
“after this”
Define difficult but necessary words
“The term tenancy means your legal right to live in your place.”

Plain language guides

PLAIN, Plain Language Association International, offers resources and education on communicating in plain language, including a concise five-step guide.

The British Columbia government has guidelines and resources for plain language writing and developing audience-focused content.

The Canada.ca Content Style Guide from the government of Canada includes tips on using plain language.

More tips

Community Legal Education Ontario’s Better Legal Information Handbook: Practical Tips for Community Workers includes tips for communicating in plain language.

Center for Plain Language offers tools including a plain language checklist.

13. Review the information periodically

Out-of-date legal information can steer people wrong and actually make their problems worse. It also reflects poorly on your organization.

Establish a review process

Develop a process to keep your information updated. This could mean reviewing the information regularly — for example, once every two or four years. How often you want to revisit your information will depend on how quickly you expect the information to change and the resources available to you. Another approach involves putting someone in charge of monitoring developments in that area of law and updating the information as needed.

Discard out-of-date information

Create a regular “weeding” routine. Review a percentage of your resources every year for currency. Discard resources that are significantly out of date.

Redirect online users to updated information

If your information is online in PDF format, whenever you upload a new PDF be sure to take down the old one. If you don’t, search engines such as Google will continue to index the old PDF and link users to that. Ideally, add a “redirect” so that users who click on a link to the old PDF are automatically bumped to the new PDF.

Make your information more inclusive and easier to find

14. Consider how the information makes your audience feel

If your information turns people off, it won’t be used or have the desired impact.

Be empathetic

Think about how the information makes a person feel. Consider the emotional state of your audience — they may be stressed, scared or feeling powerless. You can adapt the tone, words or images to help make people feel more comfortable.

Consider the diversity of your audience

Your information could be clear and accurate, but if the words or pictures inadvertently exclude people, the information will not be as widely used.

Use techniques that support empathy

You might use case studies or storytelling. When people see familiar situations or imagery, they are drawn to engage with information. Sharing lived experience creates a connection and helps people learn.

Omar (a user story example)“This past Thanksgiving, my employer gave me the day off but didn’t pay me for it. I was told only full-time employees get paid for stat holidays — I was working part-time. Then I found out part-timers who work at least 15 days in the month before the holiday are entitled to stat holiday pay. I told my employer. They agreed to pay me for Thanksgiving.”
– Omar, Vancouver, BC

15. Make the information accessible to people of varying abilities

All people deserve equal access to legal information. Adding accessibility features can improve usability for everyone, including people with disabilities, older people, and people who don’t speak English as a first language.

To get started with accessibility, take small steps

Making information more accessible can feel intimidating. There are dozens of accessibility guidelines. Many of them sound highly technical. But even applying some of the guidelines makes your information more accessible. See below for some examples that are easy to do for online information.

Then take a few more small steps

If your information is online, apply the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines make online information more accessible to people with a range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, and learning disabilities. Applying even some of these guidelines helps realize the potential of the internet to remove barriers to communication many people face in the physical world.

Here are examples of how applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines makes your web content more accessible.

Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content

img src=”newsletter.jpg” alt=”Free newsletter. Get free legal updates.”

Including text alternatives for images and other non-text content allows assistive technology such as screen readers for the visually impaired to read out the explanatory text. This enables all users to understand the images. (Providing text alternatives is important for substantive images, but not needed for images that are merely decorative.)

Guideline 1.2.2: For video or audio clips, provide captions

On a video clip, the speaker’s words appear as captions as they’re spoken.

Providing captions enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to watch synchronized media presentations.

Guideline 2.4.4: Use link text that identifies the purpose of the link

See examples of the link purpose guideline.

Descriptive link text helps all users, including those using assistive technology, to understand the purpose of a link so they can decide whether to click on it.

Accessibility guides

The WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative’s Understanding WCAG 2.1 is a guide to understanding and implementing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.

16. Make the information easy to find

Your information needs to be promoted and distributed if it’s to reliably reach your audience.

Get the word out through your staff

Make sure everyone in your organization knows what you’re producing, and where they can send people who ask about it.

Put information in the path of users

Research shows people are more likely to act on information if it’s put in their path (that is, when they don’t have to hunt for it). Doctor’s offices, hospitals, health care providers, settlement agencies, libraries, police services, schools, shelters, and government offices are great contact points for new users.

Add resources to Clicklaw

Add new resources to Clicklaw. This step will help British Columbians find your new resources. It also increases how well your information performs in search engines. (Search engines promote sites partly based on the number of external links to a resource).

For online information, spend time on search engine optimization

The internet is now a go-to tool for all kinds of information, including legal information. There are steps you can take to help people find the material you’ve put online. Roughly two-thirds of internet traffic flows through searches on search engines like Google and Bing. Boosting your site’s standings in these searches is called search engine optimization (SEO).

To get started with SEO, take small steps

Here are five key ways to improve your site’s SEO:

  1. Make your site easy to navigate. This will help people quickly find the information they want. And it will help search engines understand what content you think is important.
  2. Create unique, accurate page titles. Search engines display the first 65-75 characters of a page’s title tag in the search results. The title tag should be an accurate, concise description of a page’s content.
  3. Use heading tags appropriately. Use heading tags to emphasize important text and to convey hierarchy on a page, from H1, the most important, to H6, the least important.
  4. Have other sites link to your content. Links to your content from other websites are seen by search engines as a vote of confidence.
  5. Optimize your site for mobile use. Search engines emphasize mobile optimization. Google, for example, prefers “responsive” design. This means you need to create your site so that it adapts or “responds” to the user’s device.

SEO guides

Search Engine Land provides a helpful guide, What is SEO?, that explains search engine optimization and how to improve the SEO of your information.

Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide highlights practices to help your information perform better in Google search results.

Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO covers the steps to make your website search-engine friendly.

High-impact practices

See the eight practices that have the biggest impact on helping people trust, understand, and use your information.


Access all 16 best practices and a checklist in one PDF file.