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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05 December 2012

Listen to your readers!

I'm having such fun.

I'm doing a series of user tests on an investment statement for a KiwiSaver scheme. I'm using a couple of test methodologies. In the first part of the test, the reader goes through a section of the investment statement and talks about what they're thinking as they read. In the second part, they answer some specific questions about the content so that I can see whether the information was easy to find and understand.

It's fascinating watching different reading strategies at work. Yesterday, I conducted three tests and saw three completely different strategies.

Read everything

Reader one started at the beginning of the Key Information section, and read every line and every word. At each cross reference to more detailed information, she turned to that page and read the detail before going back to continue with the Key Information section..

Read summary in order, and skim the rest

Reader two started at the beginning of the Key Information section and read it through. She skipped a few paragraphs when the headings indicated that the content wouldn't interest her. She then started on the detailed information and skimmed through the headings, stopping to read detailed content that discussed questions she had in her mind from the Key Information section.

Read what looks interesting, and then find a real person to question

Reader three flipped through the document from the back. He then opened the Key Information section, skipped past the first page because he thought from the headings that it would tell him stuff he already knew, read a paragraph or two, skipped some more sections because he decided they didn't apply to him, and finished the Key Information section in record time. He then turned back to read in detail some of the information he skipped, this time turning for more detailed information at the cross references. Deciding that the detailed information was too detailed, he returned to the Key Information section and read most of it, coming up with a short list of questions that he said he'd phone in.

Write for your readers

To me, this demonstrates the power of headings in writing for your readers - and the power of user testing to find out whether you've succeeded.

Our client for this user testing have given us permission to write up the project for publication and presentations, so expect to hear more about what we did, what we discovered, and how we built on our findings to give our clients a better result.

I've got two more tests today and one tomorrow. I love my job!


  1. Judy, thanks for this post. I've used it at to promote the idea of reader testing. I look forward to hearing more about your current project.

    1. Thanks, Dr Kim. I love - some great resources and ideas. I've added it to our blog roll.