VisibleThread – Language Analysis Platform

Why Top Tasks & Readability Analysis Matter for the Canadian Government’s Digital Strategy

3 min read

Evelyn Wolf

Canadian Government Readability Strategy

A readability analysis of the Canadian Government’s Top Tasks

Read on below or access the complete report in PDF format here

Since 2013, the Canadian Government has adopted an approach to web design that focuses on the top tasks that web visitors need to complete on their online user journey. A top tasks strategy means you focus on what really matters (the top tasks). And focus less on the tiny tasks. This forces web designers and content creators to look at website design, user experience, and readability from the visitor’s perspective.

For governments and major brands, it makes content easier to find and simplifies the user journey. From a whole of government digital transformation perspective, there are 3 core benefits to a top tasks strategy:

  1. improves government-citizen engagement
  2. increases citizen/business compliance levels
  3. lowers costs (notably, call center costs)

Here’s how Canada.ca describes the objective:

“People come to our digital channels to accomplish a very wide range of tasks… people come to Canada.ca with a goal in mind and a task that they want to accomplish. If they are able to accomplish their task, their need has been met. If not, we have work to do.”

Learn more about the Top Tasks Initiative here.

How do you identify top tasks?

There are two central factors to consider when applying a Top Tasks approach:

  1. How do you identify the top tasks?
  2. How do you ensure that each top task has an easy-to-understand user journey?

The Canadian Government identified the 100 top tasks by following this process:

  • Collect data from various sources including; online visitor traffic, search logs, internal & external surveys, etc.
  • Understand Task Boundaries between core tasks and sub-tasks. For example “Get a passport” involves sub-tasks; “checking eligibility”, “checking passport photo requirements” etc.
  • Validate the task list with users. The government used surveys and direct discussions with users to refine the list.

You can find more detail on this process on the Canadian Government’s website.  See their full list of 100 top tasks here.

To give a sense, here are the Canadian Government’s current top 5 tasks:

1) Get a local weather forecast 

2) Get a visitor visa

3) Apply to immigrate to Canada

4) Get marine conditions

5) Get an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation)

How do you ensure that each top task has an easy-to-understand user journey?

The Canadian Government believes that plain language and good readability is a critical success factor for completing Top Tasks. In fact, the use of plain language is a requirement of the Directive on the Management of Communications. For example, the Canada.ca style guide states:

  • Use active voice over passive voice (section 2.3)
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs (section 2.7)
  • Check the reading level of your content (section 2.9)
  • Avoid jargon, idioms, and expressions (section 2.5)

Both the Canadian Government and the Province of Ontario instruct that their content should be at grade level 8 or 7.

We wanted to find out how the various government agencies are performing against this plain language goal, so we analyzed task content. You can view the full report as a PDF or continue reading below.

Our Scoring Methodology

We chose 6 tasks spread across multiple government agencies. We measured high-ranking tasks and ones further down Canada’s list.

Here are the 6 Top Tasks we analyzed:

  1. Get a visitor visa (Canada Border Services Agency & Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)
  2. Apply to immigrate to Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)
  3. Get recalls and safety alerts (Health Canada; Transport Canada; Canadian Food Inspection Agency)
  4. Apply for Employment Insurance (Employment and Social Development Canada)
  5. Get info about diseases (Public Health Agency of Canada)
  6. File a GST/HST return (Canada Revenue Agency)

We included English and French-language content. After running the web pages through our analysis, we benchmarked clarity across these three dimensions:

Long Sentence Density
What proportion of all sentences are too long?

Passive Language Density
Can passive language be replaced with more clear active language?

Readability Score
How simple is the content to read?

Key Findings

Although our research revealed some encouraging results, there are clear areas where the Canadian Government can improve.

View the key findings including a table of results and graphs to illustrate results in PDF format here