Following this helps:

  • people in a hurry – obvious meaning is easier to scan and comprehend
  • people who are stressed – if you're anxious you'll find it harder to decipher complexity
  • people who are multi-tasking – if your attention's divided you need clear information
  • cognitive impairments – obvious meaning carries less cognitive load

Guidelines

1. Make it clear who "we" is and who "you" is.

2. Be consistent: do not switch things round.

3. Decide how you will treat third parties.

Usability evidence


1. Make it clear who "we" is and who "you" is.

We

If you think it's clear who "we" are, try that. Then test with users to find out if it is clear to them.

It might not be obvious who "we" is in all content. Someone could have arrived directly on the page from a Google search, or scanned the page and missed your explanation.

So, if it's not obvious, whenever you use "we", check you’ve used the full name of the organisation in that specific section.
 

You

"You" can be confusing for readers if the content is aimed at multiple audiences.

Contextual hints can help.
 

Example:

"As an applicant, you'll... "

"As a junior lawyer, you'll..." 
 

Labelled subheaders

If there's specific, unique information for perceived or established different groups of your audience, you could provide a sub-headed section for each group on the topic page. 

Example:

"Applicants" [H2]

"Parents" [H2]

"Teachers" [H2]

But we do not recommend providing separate sections of pages for "different" audience groups. Your users may belong to more than one group – teacher who is a parent. 

Or the applicant may not have anyone else helping with their application, so they need to be able to access all the support information available.

It's better for all users to group by topic. If that suddenly seems like a long page, be more concise, consider a guide format or use design elements.

2. Be consistent: do not switch things round.

When you've made it clear who's who, stick with that. Do not be tempted to suddenly change from talking to the user as "you" and then labelling a tool, app or transaction with "my" to mean the user. 

If the user is established "you", use:

"Your basket" not "my basket"

"Your music" not "my music"

"Your application" not "my application"
 

3. Decide how you will treat third parties.

When a third party is heavily referred to in the content, in addition to the organisation whose website it is, using 'we' can become confusing.


Usability evidence

'Comprehension of pronouns', SAGE Journals, 1980

GOV.UK Content design: planning, writing and managing content, UK Government website, 2016

'Is this my interface or yours?', John Saito, 2016

Writing for the web, Tone and Voice, Office for National Statistics web style guide, 2018

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Created by Lizzie Bruce on 2019/03/08 21:23