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Part of: Clear language

Specialist terms

Last updated: 14 July, 2020

Following this helps people with:

  • time pressures: simply written content is easier to scan and absorb

  • stress: when anxious it's harder to comprehend things

  • multi-tasking: you need simple information when you're distracted

  • cognitive impairments: simple language takes less cognitive load


Guidelines

Make specialist content comprehensible by non-experts. Simple words help everyone.

1. Explain specialist terms: anybody can access your content.

2. Create content that all users can understand, whatever their expertise or background.

3. Help users understand specialist terms.

4. Use plain English for highly literate audiences.

Usability evidence

1. Explain specialist terms: anybody can access your content.

Assuming who your audience is, and that they'll understand the technical terms you use, are common misconceptions. 

2. Create content that all users can understand, whatever their expertise or background.

When you present a concept explain its parts and processes. If you need to include a technical term consider explaining it. Make sure the surrounding language is in plain language.

3. Help users understand specialist terms.

You could:

  • link to an existing definition, this could be an external site

  • add a explanatory definition after using the term

Example:

"It is a Palladian style stone building, and contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving." – original sentence

"It is a stone building in the Palladian style. It contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving." – with link to a definition

"It is a Palladian style stone building and contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving. Palladian style architecture features include columns, symmetry and decorative arches." – with explanatory definition

4. Use plain English for highly literate audiences.

Higher literacy level users scan web pages too, and have a particular need for content in plain English.

People with the highest literacy levels and greatest expertise tend to have to read the most. They do not have time to for lengthy, complex content. And this behaviour is nothing recent. UK World War 2 Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for his reports, telegrams and other communication materials to be written succinctly.  


Usability evidence

'Writing Digital Copy for Domain Experts', H. Loranger and K. Moran, NNg, 2017

'Writing Digital Copy for Specialists vs. General Audiences', K. Moran, NNg, undated

'Plain Language For Everyone, Even Experts' , H. Loranger, NNg, undated

'How Little Do Users Read'? J. Nielson, NNg, 2008

The Effects of Jargon on Processing Fluency, Self-Perceptions, and Scientific Engagement, H. C. Shulman, G. N. Dixon, O. M. Bullock, 2020

'TechWhirl Fast 5: Understanding Plain Language and Simplified Technical English', C. Giordano, TechWhirl, 2017

'Advantages and disadvantages with Simplified Technical English', MSc thesis paper, K. Disborg, 2007

'Technical Writing Need Not Be Abstruse—Use Plain Language for Maximum Impact', C. Blessing, 2015

'The Facets of the General Public as Audience' C. Stephens and M. Stufflebeam, 2017

‘Guidelines for authoring comprehensible web pages and evaluating their success’, Spyridakis, J. H., Technical Communication, 2000, pages 359 to 82

'Identifying information seeking behaviours of low and high literacy users: combined cognitive task analysis', N. Kodagoda, B. L. W. Wong, N., Kahan, 2009

'Sentence length: why 25 words is our limit', Inside GOV.UK, UK Government blog, 2014

'What we know about expertise in professional communication', Schriver, K., chapter in 'Past, present, and future contributions of cognitive writing research to cognitive psychology', editor Berninger, V. W., 2012


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