This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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20 December 2011

Giving readers the information they want

One of the key writing principles we teach is to think of the reader. We give readers the information we think they want to know. But how do we know we’re right? We recommend document user-testing.

The Office for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income recently wrote a booklet for residents of the earthquake-affected Red Zone in Christchurch. Find the booklet at — it presents the financial, legal, and insurance information residents need to make decisions about their houses.

Before the Commission published the booklet, they went to Christchurch. They showed the booklet to a group of Red Zone residents and asked them if it was easy to read, and if the information was useful. Changes were made to the content and layout of the booklet.

As a result, Christchurch Red Zone residents have information and a process that takes some of the stress out of a difficult time in their lives.

Write is encouraging its clients to think about running their own user-testing projects. We have conducted two lunchtime seminars on document user-testing. Fifty people came to each session, so we can see that our clients are concerned about their readers. Find out more about user-testing at
  • Document user-testing tells you what your readers understand.
  • Identify and address surprises.
  • Validate your educated guesses.
  • Try out variations before committing a document to print.
  • Understand reader reaction.
  • Reduce the need for customer support.
Manufacturers have been testing their products for years. Testing our documents makes good business sense — to make sure we give readers what they want.

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