Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them. Some people think that plain language writing will make their articles sound boring, dull, and condescending. Certainly, plain language has the potential to undo a fine piece of literary fiction.
Good design makes documents easier to use, helps documents stand out from other pieces of information, and lends credibility to document creators.
Librarians across library types and departments provide instruction and training materials to co-workers and library users.
For these materials to be readable and accessible, they must follow guidelines for usable document design. Improving document usability requires a basic understanding of accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, plus a few simple tips found in Gestalt and plain language principles.
Using Gestalt principles helps connect concepts within the document in a coherent way. Plain language principles emphasize clarity in writing. Keeping the needs of people with visual, motor, and cognitive impairments in mind when creating a document can also improve readability for all users.
The authors will demonstrate how adhering to these principles will improve accessibility and functionality of library documentation for everyone who uses them.
They will also direct readers to resources to help librarians create usable documentation for library processes and procedures. As a profession, we should be mindful of the impact of intentionally incorporating usability and accessibility in our practices.
Librarians can adopt a document design approach that proactively considers accessibility needs when creating documentation, rather than performing retroactive modifications upon request by a user. Kumbier and Starkey, ; Guest Pryal, After reading this article, librarians will have tools to make sustainable improvements to their document design processes.
Document Accessibility Accessibility is not accommodation. Accessibility is the deliberate provision of access through a thoughtful awareness of the multiple ways in which our users might need to interact with our resources.
Accommodation puts the burden on our users. When we design resources without considering different abilities or resources that are inaccessible to whole segments of our population, we exclude some of our users from full participation in library services Williams, ; Copeland, Text-based library services include discovery tools, subject guides, electronic resources and documentation about how to use these services.
If we as a profession do not design our resources to be inclusive of as many people as possible, we may be creating barriers to learning instead of offering pathways. Library employees also need to be considered. While specific accommodations are negotiated with local human resources offices in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act ADAthis again puts the burden on the person with disabilities to self-disclose and to go through the bureaucratic accommodations process.
Imagine how much easier things would be on everyone if we designed documents with inclusivity in mind.
Making utilitarian or rule-based ethical evaluations of accessibility are unnecessarily limiting. Also, due to stereotypes of people with disabilities, individuals may be hesitant to declare an accessibility need. We should proactively create tools and resources to benefit the widest community of users possible.
This includes both internal and external documentation. Universal Design for Learning Universal Design for Learning UDL is a curriculum development method that strives to proactively provide inclusive opportunities for the widest range of learners possible through multiple avenues of representation, expression, and engagement.
Practitioners of UDL are advised to ask two questions about design choices as they create instructional materials: How does the design choice help learners meet the goals of the learning situation?
How does the design account for learner variability? UDL co-exists with accessibility. Neither practice requires us to develop more content.
Instead, they ask us to be intentional about the content we produce and seek to identify the multiple ways content users might approach the materials. Throughout this article, we will make a case for asking these questions during the document design process to ensure design choices are purposeful and accessible.
Gestalt theory and documentation In this section, we will present design recommendations that come out of Gestalt theory. These principles help us understand how people make sense of visual information, which can guide our display decisions.
In keeping with the principles of accessibility and UDL, visual displays of information should make a document easier to understand. Make these alternatives available to all potential users, not just those who request accommodations.
As opposed to the structuralist concept of breaking wholes into component parts, a Gestalt is a complete structure whose parts must be understood in relation to each other.
A basic understanding of each Gestalt component in relation to document design will aid document creators in identifying and developing effective documentation.
We will also reference related W3C guidelines, as they are becoming the emerging legal standard for disability access in web design. Figure-Ground Segregation Figure-Ground Segregation advises that type and essential design elements be distinctly separated from the background image or coloring.
In part, this is because it is black text on white background. Use contrast to ensure readers can clearly identify and read the information.This work, “Visual Gestalt,” is a derivative of “7 Laws of Gestalt” by Valessio used under CC BY , via Wikimedia Commons.
“Visual Gestalt” is licensed under CC BY by Jennifer Turner. The Plain English Awards are a public pat on the back for plain English champions, and help raise the bar for clear communication. Use plain language to make your articles clearer, sharper, and shorter. Plain language writing is a style of writing that makes your intentions clear, easy to understand, and accessible to diverse readers.
Causes of Miscommunication. According to scientists, humans began speaking about , years ago, and writing began around B.C. Prior to written language, humans used pictures (cave drawings), which evolved to word symbols. The ADA Home Page provides access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations for businesses and State and local governments, technical assistance materials, ADA Standards for Accessible Design, links to Federal agencies with ADA responsibilities and information, updates on new ADA requirements, streaming video, information about Department of Justice ADA settlement .
Law and requirements. The Plain Writing Act of was signed on October 13, The law requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use.
While the Act does not cover regulations, two separate Executive Orders emphasize the need for plain language: E.O. and E.O. Requirements.