User centred communication – is it worth the trouble?

User centred communication has at its core a desire to make information easy to find, easy to understand and easy to act on.

If users cannot find the information they need quickly, or if they cannot easily understand what they read, they will likely give up. Potential customers could go to information provided by your competitor. Workers may make up procedures themselves, making work instructions worthless and destroying quality assurance.

Organising information in a way that makes sense to the user is essential. Expressing your thoughts clearly and in familiar language makes contact with your reader.

User based communication is very different to the information dump approach — “I’ll tell you all that I know and you figure out what you need from that.” Surprisingly, such a cumbersome approach is still common, particularly in internal documents.

Writing for the user increases the likelihood that the material will be read, understood and acted on. It’s worth the extra effort.

Write for your reader

  • How will the reader discover this information?
  • Will they be looking for an answer to a specific question they have, or just reading for interest?
  • What are they likely to be doing when they go looking for information?
  • What will the reader do with the information?
  • Do they need to follow a procedure you are describing?
  • Do they need to combine this information with other information? Where will they get this from?
  • How can you organise this in a way that makes sense to your reader?
  • How are the ideas related? (In general, it is best to start with the ‘big picture’ before moving into detail. )
  • What do your readers already know about this topic?
  • How can you organise this into chunks? (Use headings to separate the chunks, use paragraphs to further organise the chunks.)
  • What can you safely leave out? (Readers find it tiresome to wade through text that has no relevance to their interest or needs.)

When you start writing:

  • Get straight to the point.
  • Use words familiar to your reader.
  • Keep sentences short and simple. Each sentence should usually cover only one point.
  • Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice.
  • Write directly to your audience i.e. use ‘we’ and ‘you’.
  • Use verbs (action words), not nouns made from verbs.
  • Use simple, short words.