Publishing a document without testing – is that always reckless?

Reckless writing: Preparing a document without a deliberate and considered concern for readers, or a writer failing to apply their mind to consider how a document will be understood.

Any document published by business or government is a ‘product’. A document is the result of creative effort, designed to meet a particular need.

Nearly all physical products are tested before being released to the market. We couldn’t imagine an untested vehicle or drug being offered for sale – the risk is too great. We would not allow people to risk their lives just because an engineer or scientist says “I’ve worked hard and done my best.”; we insist they test their products in some way.

Yet so many information products, documents, are published without being tested, or released after only a low form of testing. They are published whenever the writer says “that’s good enough”. In many cases this amounts to recklessness – an indifference to whether the information is understood, a carelessness about how information is acted on.

Product testing is related to risk. I’ll only do minimal testing on this blog because the risk, both likelihood and consequence, of you not understanding what I am saying is small. But that’s not true of many other types of documents.

Many internal and external documents should be tested rigorously with end users. To not do so is reckless. For example:

  • Financial documents – loan agreements, insurance documents, financial advice and the like. Not thoroughly understanding these types of documents puts users at significant financial risk.
  • Medical information – misunderstanding this information can lead to poor decision making and lifelong consequences.
  • Any document written by government or a regulator – if a user does not understand these documents there is a risk they may break the law, or not receive things they are entitled to.
  • Legal documents and agreements – people must fully understand what they are agreeing to and what they are compelled to do.
  • Procedures, whether for an internal or external audience. Misunderstanding or ignoring procedures (because they are hard to read) can have significant impact.