Most of Apricot Zebra’s clients are subject-matter experts – lawyers, academics and specialist groups in government – who need to convey important information to non-expert audiences in a way that is both engaging and clear.
As well as being a fundamental part of accessibility and usability, plain language makes it possible to communicate clear messages and make the content engaging and usable for readers.
Plain language means different things to different people, and oversimplifying can signal a lack of respect. In general we are guided by the principle that writing should be as simple as the audience needs it to be but no simpler than the audience wants it to be. What this means in practice can only be decided on a case-by-case basis with our client.
When ‘translating’ a document into plain language, we begin by asking questions about:
- the intended audience and their relationship with the authoring organisation
- the needs of the audience and how they will be using the document
- what prior knowledge or assumptions readers may have about the information
- the types of vocabulary, tone and forms of expression that will help readers to understand the material and act on it as intended
- the level of plain language our client considers appropriate.
We specialise in conceptualising, structuring and presenting written content to minimise the amount of time and effort users need to understand it, learn from it and apply it in practice.
Our starting point is to clarify:
- the goals: what the content needs to achieve for our client
- the users: who will be using the content and what their needs are.
We then help our clients to speak directly so that users can find out what they need to do or learn what they need to know simply and quickly.
Consistent spelling, grammar, tone and structure are essential for user-friendly content. Depending on the type of content and user needs, our work may also involve:
- using headings, hierarchies, lists and descriptive links to make information easier to find and the user experience more intuitive
- moving the most important information to a more prominent position
- reducingthe amount of detail and removing duplicated information
- changing the format of the content (e.g. narrative to bullet points)
- removing (or moving to a supplementary position) content that does not directly address user needs
- untangling conflicting or ambiguous information or instructions
- adding readability aids (e.g. definition boxes, summary statements in margins, checklists, step-by-step illustrations)
- breaking a single document into smaller task/topic-specific documents
- exploring alternative formats or platforms for publication.