I am setting forth ten commandments for writers in the public sector, based on my dissertation and on standards for clear writing. The commandments will each appear as a Word of the Week.
Contextualize – link the text to action.
Local residents don’t usually understand the city’s decision-making process well enough to recognize, from abbreviations or status codes in a document, the part of the process that the document deals with.
As with much official activity, such abbreviations and codes are shorthand for people who deal with these issues all the time. The typical resident, however, does not regularly follow city council agendas, meetings, or minutes. What brings them to such documents is interest in a specific situation, for example construction plans for their neighborhood. The resident’s experience is like what happens why you take a new device out of its box: ease of use is determined by first contact.
The challenge of context extends to the interpretation of all parts of the text. One helpful approach is linking. In an online text, it is possible to link to an overview of the entire process as well as to documents related to different phases. However, this demands good web editor skills to create clear hypertext.
For usability, Jakob Nielsen recommends deleting unnecessary introductions. Readers are impatient; they want to find the main point. Still, even Nielsen advises providing context, as long as you keep it concise.