Ensure that information can be understood by all users


Documentation is the link between a user and the product or service. If a user cannot understand the information that accompanies the product or a service, they will be unable to use it to its full potential, or in some cases at all. If a potential user cannot understand information about a product or service that they wish to order, they may not order it and the provider may lose a valuable customer.

A lot of people find instructional information very difficult to follow. Information that is overly technical or that is not written for the widest possible audience will confuse and frustrate users. Information that is clear, concise and understandable will be of benefit to even the most tech-savvy of users who will appreciate instructions that are well thought out and designed for ease of use.

The more users are able to understand the documentation, the more they will be able to use the product or service independently. This will result in fewer customer service calls to be answered by the service provider.

Directions and techniques

Use simple language in written and verbal communications (high priority)

Write the instructions for the least experienced user, not the most experienced. Wherever possible, use clear, concise, non-technical language, according to Plain English guidelines. This approach uses short sentences and avoids jargon and complicated words or phrases. It can be used to introduce the necessary technicalities and the basic terminology in a way that helps readers understand something the first time they read it.

If it was more plain English. Just ordinary words. You don't have to have all the big words.

Guidelines survey respondent.

Organise instructions around user tasks, rather than system components. Where a number of assembly and/or installation steps are required, it is helpful to number the steps in sequence and to include a text and graphic image for each step.

Application forms should also be designed in a way that makes them easy to understand and complete. By making both the content and the layout clear and concise, users will know what information is required, in what form and where to enter it. Follow Plain English guidelines for forms.

Customer service representatives should also be able to describe technical terms in a non-technical way.

Most try to help and are patient but you need tech knowledge.

Difficult to access specific information by phone. Marketing people do not understand the lack of knowledge of old people in the "press-button" age. Old people have poor skills in choosing in this digital age. Instructions too complicated. Lack clarity.

Guidelines survey respondents.

Give relevant information in a logical order (high priority)

Identify the key information that the user is most likely to require and ensure that it is up front and as prominent as possible. In many cases it can help to imagine that the instructions are telling a story, walking the user through an action step-by-step. Starting with a list of the required components, explain how these should be prepared, then give step-by-step instructions in the exact order in which they should be carried out.

Provide at least the key information in a number of different ways

Exploit the fact that people take in information in different ways. Provide key information in both text-based and graphical forms.

Provide a way for users to get further clarification

Provide clear information about sources of further information, such as a contact number, an email address or a website. Remember that not every user will have internet access and not every user can use a telephone, so providing a range of options is key to meeting the needs of as many users as possible.

How you could test for this

To find out whether efforts to make documentation and information understandable will be successful, it is necessary to test it with a wide range of users, including people with low literacy, cognitive impairments and reading disorders. This can be done by asking the users to set up and use the product or service by referring to the documentation. Further tests could also be included within general long term user trials encompassing the whole process of setting up, learning and using the product or service.