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HomeGuidelines > 1. Trim that Text! > 1h. Beware of cutting so far that you make the text ambiguous.              





Audience Fit


Bonus! Hot Text chapter (110K, PDF, 2 minutes at 56K)

1h. Beware of cutting so far that you make the text ambiguous.

  • Expand contractions, abbreviations, and acronyms. Not just at first use. In general. You can rarely tell when the user is encountering the term for the first time. Do not save on character count by compressing every piece of jargon into a few capital letters.
  • Drop the semi-colon. Start a new sentence. (People miss the semicolon onscreen, and get confused in a runon sentence or two).
  • Leave articles in the text. The, a, and an help people identify the nouns and noun phrases, distinguishing them from verbs. The articles also make explicit whether you mean this particular item, or just any item like this.
  • Preserve relative pronouns like who, which, that. These help people see the relationship between the subordinate clause and the main clause.
  • Move phrases so they do not intervene between the subject and the verb, or between the verb and the object.


Escher effects force users to consider the context in which information appears, rather than simply taking in the information offered. They force users to analyze particular phrases and sentences. They can prevent users from building a trustworthy mental model of the system. —Ramey (1989)

Avoid contractions, abbreviations, colons, and semicolons online. —Galitz(1985)

Make sure you are not providing less information just because you are being concise. —Bricklin (1998)

See: Bricklin (1998), Galitz (1985), Horton (1990), Ramey (1989), Waite (1982)

Other ways to trim that text

1a. Cut any paper-based text by 50%.

1b. Use short words.

1c. Make some sentences short.

1d. Make most paragraphs short.

1e. Delete marketing fluff.

1f. Move vital but tangential or supplemental material.

1g. Convert repeating categories of information into tables.






Original sentences

TCP/IP acts like an OS, through HTML/XML technologies, parsers, and browsers.

The house he found he liked, he said.

The senators predicted massive wildfires, if the bill passes, and if the Forest Service actually goes ahead and renews licensing for low-level logging and brush clearance, would not occur.

Revised sentences

When you are looking at a page in your Web browser, you enter an environment that is almost like an operating system such as Windows, because you can do so much using your browser, and the technology that works behind the scene. Helping the browser are the standards known as HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and software that interprets those tags.

He said that he liked the house that he had found.

If the bill passes, senators predict an end to massive wildfires—if the Forest Service actually licenses companies to clear brush and cut low trees.

Audience Fit

Resources on brevity

Taking a Position on Brevity

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Brevity













If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Even fun-lovers hate to be confused. You can entertain without a lot of apostrophes, colons, and semicolons.  Of course, you can't give up the exclamation point!
To learn Simplifying does not ruin your dignity.
To act Avoiding these ambiguities makes your instructions easier to follow.
To be aware Why not?  If you cut too far, you just shift attention away from your deeper meaning, turning the reader's mind to grammatical exegesis.
To get close to people In the heat of a rant, any punctuation goes, because people type so badly when responding to a discussion or e-mail.  But don't tighten up too far.  Let yourself ramble, and you'll avoid the worst problems we describe here.

Ready for some challenges?






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