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Principles

1. Understand who and why

2. Understand the text

3. Choose what to say

4. Slash everything else

5. Edit sentences

6. Put into logical order

7. Demolish walls of words

8. Use links in the right way

9. Rest it then test it

6. Put into logical order

Organise each sentence to make it work in a logical order. Then move the sentences around to make sure that they are in a logical order.

IF before THEN

It's easier to make the right decision about what to do when "if" comes before "then".

Keep equivalent items parallel

When you have a bulleted or numbered list, make sure that the things in the list are all similar.

Example that's not parallel. The last bullet point is a new sentence, and not equivalent to the others.

Text that scrolls across the page is harder to read for:
* people with dyslexia
* anyone who speaks English as a second language
* It can also confuse some screenreaders, used by people who are blind

List conditions separately

If you have to do X when condition A applies and Y when condition B applies except when condition D applies then it becomes rather complicated to work out what is what.

Try this instead:

If condition A applies then do X.
If condition D applies then do Y.
If condition D does not apply then if condition B does apply then do ????.

And now we can see that some of the possibilities aren't explained.

First things first, second things second

Often we want readers to do one thing then do another thing. Make sure you list them in the same order that you want them to be done.

Make sure that the common circumstances come first. Let exceptional circumstances 'opt out' to be dealt with exceptionally.

 

 


Tips and cautions

It's natural to write "Do this if you want to achieve that", or "Do this unless that applies to you".

There is reseach evidence to show that many people will obey the 'do this' part of the instruction without noticing the 'if' or 'unless' part.


Try writing like a recipe

Many good cookbooks follow this format for recipes:

* title of the recipe
* why you might want to cook it
* the ingredients you need
* the list of things to do with them (the method)
* any variations

When you're writing a list of instructions, try writing them like a recipe.


IF before THEN

Dixon, P. 1987. "The Processing of Organizational and Component Step Information in Written Directions" Journal of Memory and Language, 26, pp24-35, Academic Press, Inc.

First things first, second things second

Adapted from 'Preserve temporal order' in Wright, P. and P. Barnard (1975). "‘Just fill in this form’ — a review for designers." Applied Ergonomics 6(4): 213-220.