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HomeGuidelines > 5. Reduce cognitive burdens. > 5e. Make a positive statement.          

 

Diagram

Background

Examples

Audience Fit

Challenges

Bonus! Hot Text chapter (92K, PDF, 2 minutes at 56K)

5e. Make a positive statement.

  • Let people understand right away.  When you issue prohibitions, saying, "Don't do this," people have to think, "Well, what should I do?"
  • Turn negative phrases into positive statements, where you can.

    Before:
    Major Williams was accused of making comments that were not true.

    After:
    Major Williams was accused of lying.
     

    Before:
    We must make sure that our sales people do not act in an unprofessional manner.

    After:
    We must make sure that our sales people act professionally.
     

    Before:
    The ship date will not be met if Quality Control fails to approve the current version.

    After:
    If Quality Control approves the current version, we will ship on time.

Other ways to make your text easier to understand:

5a. Reduce the number of clauses per sentence.

5b. Blow up nominalizations and noun trains.

5c. Watch out for ambiguous phrases a user might have to debate.

5d. Surface the agent and action, so users don't have to guess.

5f. Reduce scrolling.

5g. Let users print or save the entire document at once.

  Diagram

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background

Negative constructions take longer to verify than positive constructions. The reason is fairly obvious: negative constructions include an additional operation (logical NOT) that must be performed in order to extract meaning. The reader must translate the negative form of the statement into its positive form to figure out what is meant.

Comprehension suffers when the reader must make a logical reversal, such as when translating the statement "The switch is not off," to get the meaning "The switch is on."Simpson & Casey (1988)

See bibliography: Boomer (1975), Chase & Clark (1972), Clark & Chase (1970), Dewer (1976), Hackos & Stephens (1996), Herriot (1970), Horton (1990), Simpson & Casey (1988), Whitaker & Stacey (1981), Wickens (1984)

Examples

Original Sentence

Caution: Do not exit the Signal dialog box without first selecting the TCP/IP option.

Revised Sentences

1. Choose TCP/IP.

2. Close the Signal dialog box.

Resources on thoughtlessness

Taking a Position on Thoughtlessness

Heuristic Online Text (H. O. T.) Evaluation of Cognitive Burdens

Poster

 

 

Audience Fit
 
If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Taking a negative position intrigues your readers.  But attack with gusto and not too many negatives.
To learn Negatives rarely work.  Teach pluses, not minuses.
To act People need to know what to do.  Telling them what not to do risks confusion, or worse, people doing just what you told them not to do.
To be aware Try not thinking of fudge.  Negatives have their place when you must disabuse people of established notions.  But move quickly from puncturing illusions to saying what is true.
To get close to people A few negatives get a good argument going.  Too many, and people tune out.

Ready for some challenges?

Don't make me think.

 

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