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Plain language is accessibility for content

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You went to a lot of trouble to put that content online. Plain language will help your audience find it, understand it and use it. Writing clearly makes information more accessible – and usable – for people who don’t read well, are reading in a second language, or are listening to the text. That means better informed users, happier customers, and fewer angry support calls.

Updated for AccessU 2017

Long descriptions of images are in the speaker notes

Published in: Design
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Plain language is accessibility for content

  1. 1. Plain language: accessibility for information Whitney Quesenbery WQusability.com | Center for Civic Design Twitter: @whitneyq | @civicdesign | @awebforeveryone www.slideshare.net/whitneyq/plain-language-is-accessibility-for-content
  2. 2. What is plain language? Information in plain language helps people  find what they need  understand what they find  and use it to meet their own goals Plain language speaks to the readers, using words they understand.
  3. 3. Plain language helps...  People who don't read English well  People with cognitive disabilities  People who with low literacy 44% of Americans don’t read well. National Assessment of Adult Literacy
  4. 4. People read with different levels of literacy Below basic – only the most simple and concrete reading skills Basic – able to manage everyday tasks  Intermediate – moderately challenging activities like consulting reference material  Proficient – interpreting text, comparing viewpoints U.S. National Assessment of Adult Literacy http://nces.ed.gov/naal/kf_demographics.asp
  5. 5. A right to understand Sandra Fisher-Martins “The Right to Understand”at TEDx O’Porto -www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP2y0vU7EG8 Transcript: http://rosenfeldmedia.com/a-web-for-everyone/plain-language-accessibility-for-information/
  6. 6. Plain language is accessibility for cognitive disabilities Many barriers to cognitive accessibility are the same as usability problems for general audience…but more severe. - Clayton Lewis
  7. 7. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Revised Confirmation Letters, ClearMark winner, 2010
  8. 8. Unum – How to File a Disabilty Claim ClearMark award winner, 2012
  9. 9. Center for Civic Design with the Minnesota Secretary of State, 2009 slideshare.net/whitneyq/minnesota- absentee- clarity2010
  10. 10. How do you make information clear?
  11. 11. People can read, understand, and use the information • Write for your audience. • Follow plain language guidelines for writing content. • Write sentences and paragraphs for easy scanning. • Support users through their tasks. • Structure the whole page for scanning and comprehension. • Write helpful links. • Use language your audience is familiar with, or provide definitions. • Provide plain language summaries of complex content. • Don’t rely on readability formulas. • Usability test your content. Accessible UX Guidelines and a cross-reference to WCAG 2.0 http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/a-web-for-everyone/resources/ Accessible UX content guidelines for Plain language: creates a converation
  12. 12. Attention Customers: Vegetation Management Work In accordance with Section 14:5-9.67 of the New Jersey Administrative Code, this notice is to advise you of planned vegetation management activity on transmission rights-of-way in your area. If there is work to be performed on your property, a representative authorized by Jersey Central Power & Light will notify you of the necessary work. Our qualified tree contractor(s) will be sent out to maintain the vegetation. This work is necessary to enhance reliable electric service. All our methods and applications are approved, consistent with industry standards, environmentally sound, and performed in accordance with New Jersey Board of Public Utilities' regulatoins referenced above.
  13. 13. 5 guidelines • Write for your audience • Organize information logically • Write for action • Short words, sentences, paragraphs • Design for reading
  14. 14. 1. Write for the audience Speak to them in their words about their tasks
  15. 15. Use simple, everyday words Description Of Service The Site is an online community which enables photographers and graphic artists to post photographs and images, share comments, opinions and ideas, promote their work, participate in contests and promotions, and access and/or purchase services from time to time made available on the Site (“Services”). Services include, but are not limited to, any service and/or content 500px makes available to or performs for you, as well as the offering of any materials displayed, transmitted or performed on the Site or through the Services. Content (“Content”) includes, but is not limited to text, user comments, messages, information, data, graphics, news articles, photographs, images, illustrations, and software. Your access to and use of the Site may be interrupted from time to time as a result of equipment malfunction, updating, maintenance or repair of the Site or any other reason within or outside the control of 500px. 500px reserves the right to suspend or discontinue the availability of the Site and/or any Service and/or remove any Content at any time at its sole discretion and without prior notice. 500px may also impose limits on certain features and Services or restrict your access to parts of or all of the Site and the Services without notice or liability. The Site should not be used or relied upon for storage of your photographs and images and you are directed to retain your own copies of all Content posted on the Site.
  16. 16. Write directly to the readers Vote Early – The Registrar of Voters office is open as a polling place for the November 5, 2013 Election, beginning on Monday, October 7, 2013 through Tuesday, November 5, 2013. You may vote a vote-by-mail ballot at the Registrar of Voters office. Vote early in person You may vote early at Registrar of Voters office, or at the voting centers listed on page 5. October 7 through November 5 Monday – Friday, 8am to 5pm Registrar of Voters 4321 Franklin Avenue .
  17. 17. ... Even when the reader is a only indirectly "you" § 408.315. Who may sign your application? (a) When you must sign. If you are mentally competent, and physically able to do so, you must sign your own application. (b) When someone else may sign for you. (1) If you are mentally incompetent, or physically unable to sign, your application may be signed by a court-appointed representative or a person who is responsible for your care, including a relative. If you are in the care of an institution, the manager or principal officer of the institution may sign your application. (2) If it is necessary to protect you from losing benefits and there is good cause why you could not sign the application, we may accept an application signed by someone other than you or a person described in paragraph (b)(1) of this section.
  18. 18. Support confident navigation Leap and land on the same word
  19. 19. 2. Organize information logically In the right order When needed (not before)
  20. 20. Get ready: Establish context and requirements The page says: Online Registration Renewal A simple 4-step process. 1. Enter vehicle registration 2. Enter owner information 3. Pay fees 4. Provide feedback (optional) Make sure you have the following ready: • Your registration renewal form • Your Social Security Number (SSN) • Your Insurance Identification Card • A valid credit card 4 images show cards for Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover  Identify the number of steps or process  Tell people what they will need
  21. 21. Table of contents Provide a roadmap  Let readers know what to expect.  Show how information is organized.
  22. 22. Organize information by activity or task  All of the information for one topic on one page  Only one topic per page
  23. 23. Write in bites, snacks and meals Bite: Shortest possible information Snack: Summary, with enough information for an experienced voters Meal: Full details or instructions
  24. 24. Include both overview and details Level Where in the Guide Example Bite Cover General Election Tuesday, November 4, 2014 Polls are open from 7am to 8pm Snack Three ways to vote page Vote in person at the polls Polls are open on Election Day, November 4, from 7am to 8pm The location of your polling place is printed on the front cover of this guide. Or, you can look up your polling place: • On the web: www.franklinvotes.org • Using the automated phone service: 1-222-555- 1216 Meal Detailed instructions on page 6 How to vote in person at the polls [ instructions on the voting process and how to mark the ballot ]
  25. 25.  Starts with a "bite"  Active headings  Lists  "If" options before "then" actions  Links to action in each section Design to Read: Guidelines for People Who Do Not Read Easily http://uxpamagazine.org/people_who_do_not_read_easily/ This page has been replaced with: https://www.gov.uk/carers-allowance/eligibility
  26. 26. 3. Write for action Active verbs Positive messages
  27. 27. Write headings as questions or active instructions Heading Style Example Why it works Question What is the last day to request a vote-by-mail-ballot? Suggests a question that voters ask Quasi- Question How to request a vote-by-mail ballot Suggests what the question the text will answer Instruction Request a vote-by-mail ballot by October 29 Provides the answer to an implicit question
  28. 28. Write with active verbs
  29. 29. First things first Put instructions in the right order  Draw a triangle on top of an upside down “T”
  30. 30. First things first Put instructions in the right order  Draw a triangle on top of an upside down “T”  Did you draw a pine tree or a wine glass?
  31. 31. Be positive How much are the annual tuition fees at this university? A typical three-year degree at £3,000 a year adds up to to £9,000 – a hefty sum that doesn’t include living costs.... The fees at the Open University are one third of the tpical costs at other univerisities (on average to £3,046 compared with £9,000... Universities will be able to charge up to £3,000 for annual tuition fees and the government is predicting that average levels of student debt will be around £15,000 for those entering higher education next year...
  32. 32. 4. Keep the text as short as possible Short words Short sentences Short paragraphs
  33. 33. Use summaries for key points This example is from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/bone
  34. 34. How to vote (1) Mark only with a writing instrument provided by the board of elections. (2) To vote for a candidate whose name is printed on this ballot fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) above or next to the name of the candidate. (3) To vote for a person whose name is not printed on this ballot write or stamp his or her name in the space labeled “write-in” that appears (insert at the bottom of the column, the end of the row or at the bottom of the candidate names, as applicable) for such office (and, if required by the voting system in use at such election, the instructions shall also include “and fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) corresponding with the write-in space in which you have written in a name”). (4) To vote yes or no on a proposal, if any, that appears on the (indicate where on the ballot the proposal may appear) fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) that corresponds to your vote. (5) Any other mark or writing, or any erasure made on this ballot outside the voting squares or blank spaces provided for voting will void this entire ballot. (6) Do not overvote. If you select a greater number of candidates than there are vacancies to be filled, your ballot will be void for that public office, party position or proposal. (7) If you tear, or deface, or wrongly mark this ballot, return it and obtain another. Do not attempt to correct mistakes on the ballot by making erasures or cross outs. Erasures or cross outs may invalidate all or part of your ballot. Prior to submitting your ballot, if you make a mistake in completing the ballot or wish to change your ballot choices, you may obtain and complete a new ballot. You have a right to a replacement ballot upon return of the original ballot. (8) After completing your ballot, insert it into the ballot scanner and wait for the notice that your ballot has been successfully scanned. If no such notice appears, seek the assistance of an election inspector.
  35. 35. How to vote (another try) Instructions Mark the oval to the left of the name of your choice. To vote for a candidate whose name is not printed on the ballot, print the nameclearly in the box labeled 'write-in', staying within the box. Do not make any marks outside the spaces provided for voting. If you do, your ballot may not count. The number of choices is listed for each contest. Do not mark the ballot for more candidates than allowed. If you do, your vote in that contest will not count. If you make a mistake, or want to change your vote, ask a poll worker for a new ballot.
  36. 36. 5. Design for reading Lists and tables Info design Clear fonts
  37. 37. Design for reading patterns
  38. 38. Let lists be lists Good information design supports good accessibility The most important information in this email is buried in a massive, parenthetical sentence. Hello. From time to time we update our agreement governing the use of Square's payment processing services, Square Reader, and Square Register. We're writing to inform you of a few changes recently incorporated into this agreement. Click here to read the updated Seller Agreement. The vast majority of changes result from either reorganization, clarification of language, the deletion of duplicative text, or other aesthetic changes, although there are a few substantive modifications. (See, for example, Section 6 [Your Square Account], Section 7 [Our Role], Section 12 [Applicable Network Rules], Section 15(a) [Access to Square Account Funds], Section 15(b) [Right to Setoff], Section 16 [Payout Schedule], Section 24 [Taxes], Section 36 [Disclosures and Notices], Section 47 [Representation and Warranties], and Section 49b [Third Party Products].) The updated agreement will take effect on June 9, 2013. If you continue to use our services after June 9, 2013, you agree to the terms of the new agreement. You will be able to access the previous version of the agreement for the next thirty days. Thanks, The Square Team squareup.com Email from square.com and link to https://squareup.com/legal/seller-agreement
  39. 39. Use typography to support reading Do  Have enough space between lines  Make the font big enough (12pts +) Don't  Use centered text (even on headings)  Use all capital letters
  40. 40. Use layout to convey content  Layout can communicate the type of content on a page  Layout can differentiate page types from one another
  41. 41. Good layout makes information seem simpler "Simpler. Takes time to read." "Clear headings. More space. Less of a pitch and more facts." "I just want to focus on the priorities, not so much about who they are." "Less words, more info per page." "Good layout vs. blocks of text." "Easy to read. Names and information are separated so you can read each one."
  42. 42. Plain language is a process
  43. 43. Untangling information  What is it trying to say?  Put the information in the right order  Adjust typography  Simplify words  Use active phrasing
  44. 44. NOTICE If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election bard and receive a new ballot or set of ballots. To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left. TO VOTE, DARKEN THE OVAL NEXT TO YOUR CHOICE, LIKE THIS TO VOTE, DARKEN THE OVAL NEXT TO YOUR CHOICE, LIKE THIS To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left. If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots 1. Put the instructions in a logical order To vote, darken the oval next to your choice, like this: To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left. If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots 2. Adjust typography – no capital letters, highlight important information
  45. 45. To vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this: To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, fill in the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, and fill in the oval next to it. If you make a mistake marking your ballot, return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots. 3. Simplify phrases to use common words To vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this: To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, and fill in the oval next to it. If you make a mistake marking your ballot, ask a poll worker for a new ballot. 4. Continue simplifying and using active phrasing To vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this: To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, and fill in the oval next to it. If you make a mistake marking your ballot, ask a poll worker for a new ballot. 5. Make the text large enough to see
  46. 46. Attention Customers: Vegetation Management Work In accordance with Section 14:5-9.67 of the New Jersey Administrative Code, this notice is to advise you of planned vegetation management activity on transmission rights-of-way in your area. If there is work to be performed on your property, a representative authorized by Jersey Central Power & Light will notify you of the necessary work. Our qualified tree contractor(s) will be sent out to maintain the vegetation. This work is necessary to enhance reliable electric service. All our methods and applications are approved, consistent with industry standards, environmentally sound, and performed in accordance with New Jersey Board of Public Utilities' regulatoins referenced above.
  47. 47. Myths that hold us back
  48. 48. Myth: “My audience doesn’t need plain language” Teens  Write simply, using words that are common to your readers’ vocabulary  Be concise and get to the point  Make the content apply to personal and cultural experiences Older adults  Use words that most older adults know  Write in plain language with short, simple and straightforward sentences Low literacy  Put the most important information first  Write text with a simple sentence structure  Keep pages, paragraphs, sentences short Teenagers on the Web www.nngroup.com/reports/teens/ Designing Web Sites for Older Adults, http://www.redish.net/articles-slides/articles-slides-older-adults Work with low literacy web users www.stc.org/intercom/pdfs/2004/200406_19-23.pdf But compare these guidelines for different audiences
  49. 49. Myth: “People can’t tell the difference” 9 82 9 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 No preference Plain language version Traditional version Preference for style of instructions (% of participants) Report of Findings: Use of Language in Ballot Instructions, NIST IR 7556
  50. 50. Myth: My information can’t be expressed in plain language Information can be technically accurate, interesting and well written appropriate to the audience and also clear and understandable
  51. 51. Plain language resources Federal Plain Language Guidelines http://www.plainlanguage.gov/ SEC Plain Language Handbook http://www.sec.gov/pdf/handbook.pdf How to write clearly – European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/clear_writ ing/how_to_write_clearly_en.pdf LinkedIn Grouphttp://www.linkedin.com/groups/Plain- Language-Advocates- 158634?trk=myg_ugrp_ovr Letting Go of the Words by Janice (Ginny) Redish
  52. 52. Get in touch! Whitney Quesenbery whitneyq@civicdesign.org @whitneyq civicdesign.org @civicdesign

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