Plain Language Association InterNational conference
Sydney, Australia, October 2009
Martin Cutts, research director, Plain Language Commission, UK
available free from http://www.clearest.co.uk/files/InstructionsForConsumerProducts.pdf
Here is an excerpt:
The Oxford Guide [The Oxford Guide to Plain English (2009) Cutts M, Oxford;] suggests, for example, that companies hire a usability firm to test their instructions with real people.David A McMurrey also gives good advice at http://www.io.com/~hcexres/textbook/instrux.html.
Here are some of the principles in the Oxford Guide:
1 Remember the readers. Usually readers haven’t used the product before; that’s why they’re reading the instructions. Say a little at a time.
2 Favour a basic style of language. This often means using the command form of the verb, the imperative, which helps you state the action early and keep the message simple.
3 Split the information into chunks and use separate headed sections. A common sequence of sections is:
• introductory explanation, overview or summary
• tools or materials needed
• main text, split into headed sections.
4 Use clear illustrations of adequate size with good labels and captions. Relevant illustrations should be visible while the user is reading the text.
5 Test with typical users.