The readability of an apprenticeship standard should be appropriate to the skill level of the occupation. As far as possible, the language used should also be gender-neutral.

Apprenticeships should be accessible to individuals from all backgrounds. Potential apprentices may read the standards to decide which career they want to pursue. We want you to use inclusive language that will appeal to the widest possible audience.

Research shows that women tend not to apply for roles with masculine coded language in them. Men are not put off applying for jobs containing feminine coded words in the description.

This guidance outlines how we will support you to use plain English and gender-neutral language when developing your standard.

1. Software tool

We have developed a software tool to help you to write using plain English and gender-neutral language. The tool produces language analysis reports on drafts of your occupational standard. You can then make changes to improve the readability and the gender score.

Your relationship manager will help you. They will provide you with a language analysis report at any time in the development of your occupation proposal and occupational standard. They will also explain the plain English and gender scores.

This guidance provides information on using plain English and gender-neutral language. It is not about swapping one masculine word for a feminine word or dumbing down text. It is about writing clearly and thinking about the context in which language is used to appeal to a diverse range of people.

Next steps

You should draft your occupation proposal and occupational standard on apprenticeship builder. Your relationship manager can provide you with a language analysis report at any time.

You should allow plenty of time to consider the report(s) and to make changes to your occupation proposal and occupational standard before submitting it or starting work on your end-point assessment plan.

The report will highlight lengthy sentences, words with a high number of syllables and gendered language. This will show you areas that could be changed to improve the readability and gender scores.

In the future, you will be able to obtain language analysis reports directly from the apprenticeship builder.

A route panel may not agree with an occupational standard that does not have an appropriate readability score or is not broadly gender-neutral.

2.  The language analysis report

The language analysis report focuses on:

  • readability
  • any gender biases

Readability

Readability is a measure of how easy the reader finds the text to read and understand. The readability of an apprenticeship standard should be appropriate to the skill level of the occupation.

The report calculates the Flesch reading ease score for each standard. The score is based on the average sentence length and the average number of syllables per word. The higher the average sentence length and the higher the average number of syllables, the lower the Flesch score. The lower the score, the harder the text is to read.

The readability should reflect the level of the standard.

Plain English means writing something as simply and directly as possible, in a language that all readers will understand. This isn’t dumbing down content, it’s maximising the number of people reading, understanding and taking action.

Flesch score interpretation level indicator guide
0 to 30 Very difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates No standards should be in this category
30 to 50 Difficult to read Level 6 and above only
50 to 60 Fairly difficult to read Level 4 and above only
60 to 70  Plain English Level 2 and above
70 to 80  Fairly easy to read
80 to 90  Easy to read. Everyday English
90 to 100 Very easy to read

Quick tips for writing in plain English

  • Stop and think before you start writing. Make a note of the points you want to make in a logical order.

  • Prefer short words. Long words will not impress our users or help your writing style.

  • Spell out acronyms. We must always spell out acronyms in the first instance, even if we think they are widely known in the sector.

  • Use every day English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalistic words, and always explain any technical terms you have to use.

  • Keep your sentence length down to an average of 15 to 20 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a sentence.

  • Set a word limit for what you are going to write. And then stick to it!

  • Drop the capital letters. These slow the brain down when reading, as we do not recognise the shape of words.

  • Use active verbs as much as possible. Say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’.

  • Imagine you are talking to your reader. Write sincerely, personally, in a style that is suitable and with the right tone of voice.

  • Have the most important information or the call to action at the top. The amount of people who read a document in its entirety is very low at 20 to 28% of the text on a web page, so messaging can get lost.

  • And always check that your writing is clear, helpful, human and polite.

Make your sentences active rather than passive, most of the time. Active sentences give your writing energy and clarity. They are quicker and easier to read. They are more memorable.

In active sentences, the subject (the person or thing doing something) comes in front of the verb. You tell people, who is doing what.

Passive sentences can sound vague or evasive. If you know who is doing the doing, be bold and say so.

Passive

Active

A speech was given by the minister.

The minister gave a speech.

Shakespeare is enjoyed by students.

Students enjoy Shakespeare.

The homework is set by teachers.

Teachers set the homework.

A policy was introduced.

The department introduced a policy.

Parents are requested to

We are asking parents to

A target exists to increase the number of children

We want more children to

This letter is being sent because

I am writing to you because

For more information on how to write in plain English, you can visit the plain English campaign website.

Gendered language

Apprenticeships should appeal to all types of people irrespective of their background. As such, you need to ensure that the language is inclusive.

The report counts the number of masculine words and the number of feminine words in the standard. A ‘gender score’ is then calculated by taking the number of masculine words away from the number of feminine words.

A negative score indicates that text biased towards the male gender. A positive score indicates the text is biased towards the female gender. Larger numbers (in either direction) imply a stronger bias.

These scores are generated as a guide only. The aim should be to make the text gender-neutral.

It may not be appropriate to always make the text completely gender-neutral. For example, occupation titles like 'data analyst' are masculine coded. Because the word 'analyst' describes the role function, it can't be avoided.

If the text is only slightly biased (between -5 and +5) then you may decide that it is acceptable.

Gender score interpretation
Less than -25 Extremely biased towards the male gender
-16 to -25 Very biased towards the male gender
-6 to -15 Biased towards the male gender
-1 to -15 Slightly biased towards the male gender
0 Gender-neutral
1 to 5 Slightly biased towards the female gender
6 to 15 Biased towards the female gender
16 to 25 Very biased towards the female gender
More than 25 Extremely biased towards the female gender

To make text gender-neutral, you need to avoid or balance the use of gendered words. It might not be possible, nor sensible, to avoid words entirely and so it is important to use a common-sense approach. 

Think about the whole sentence and not just replacing the individual words directly. For example, the sentence ‘Analyse problems logically and troubleshoot to determine effective solutions’. This contains the male-gendered words ‘analyse’, ‘logically’ and ‘determine’. This could become ‘Consider problems and find innovative and effective workable solutions’

List of masculine and feminine words

Gendered words are from the 2011 research paper ‘Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality’ by Gaucher, Friesen and Kay.

Feminine words

 

Affectionate

Child* (e.g. child, children)

Cheer* (e.g. cheerful)

Commit* (e.g. commitment)

Communal

Compassion

Connect* (e.g. connection)

Considerate

Cooperat* (e.g. cooperative)

Depend (e.g. dependable)

Emotiona* (e.g. emotionally)

Empath* (e.g. empathetic)

Feminine

Flatterable

Gentle

Honest

Interdependen* (e.g. interdependent)

Interpersona* (e.g. interpersonal)

Kind

Kinship

Loyal

Modesty

Nurtur* (e.g. nurture)

Pleasant

Polite

Quiet

Respon* (e.g. responsible)

Sensitive

Submissive

Support* (e.g. supportive)

Sympath* (e.g. sympathetic)

Tender

Together

Trust

Understand* (e.g. understanding)

Warm

Yield

 

Masculine words

 

Active

Adventurous

Aggress* (e.g. aggressive, aggression)

Ambitio* (e.g. ambitious, ambition)

Analy* (e.g. analysis, analytical)

Assert* (e.g. assertive)

Athlet* (e.g. athletic)

Autonom* (e.g. autonomous)

Boast

Challeng (e.g. challenging)

Compet* (e.g. competitive)

Confident

Courag* (e.g. courageous)

Decide

Decisi* (e.g. decisive, decision)

Determin* (e.g. determined)

Domina* (e.g. dominant)

Force

Greedy

Headstrong

Hierarch* (e.g. hierarchy)

Hostil* (e.g. hostility, hostile)

Impulsive

Independen* (e.g. independence)

Individual

Intellect* (e.g. intellectual)

Lead* (e.g. lead, leader, leadership)

Logic* (e.g. logical)

Masculine

Objective

Opinion

Outspoken

Persist* (e.g. persistent)

Principle

Reckless

Stubborn

Superior

Self-confiden* (e.g. self-confidence)

Self-sufficien* (e.g. self-sufficient)

Self-relian* (e.g. self-reliant)