Specialist terms

Recommendations

Specialist content does not need to be complicated and incomprehensible to non-specialists. Assuming who your audience is, and that they will understand the technical terms you use are both common misconceptions.

1. Remember that anybody can access your content.

2. Create content inclusively so that all users can understand it whatever their level of expertise or background:

  • do not just present a concept: explain its parts and processes in detail
  • if it's necessary to include technical terms consider explaining them and make sure the language surrounding them is in plain language

3. Help users understand a specialist term:

  • link the word to a page that explains what it means
  • add a definition after using the term
  • link to an existing definition – this could be an external site

Example content design for a specialist term

We took the following example sentence from yourdictionary.com and used it to demonstrate specialist terms best practices.

Before:
"It is a Palladian style stone building, and contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving."

After:
"It is a Palladian style stone building, and contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving." – with link.

"It is a Palladian style stone building and contains a number of splendid paintings and much fine wood-carving. Palladian architecture features columns, symmetry and decorative arches." – with definition.

Usability evidence

'Writing Digital Copy for Domain Experts' 2017
https://www.nngroup.com/articles/writing-domain-experts/

'Writing Digital Copy for Specialists vs. General Audiences' No date
https://www.nngroup.com/videos/writing-digital-copy-specialists/?lm=how-users-read-on-the-web&pt=article

'Plain Language For Everyone, Even Experts' No date
https://www.nngroup.com/videos/plain-language-for-experts/?lm=how-users-read-on-the-web&pt=article

'TechWhirl Fast 5: Understanding Plain Language and Simplified Technical English' 2017
https://techwhirl.com/techwhirl-fast-5-understanding-plain-language-simplified-technical-english/

'Advantages and disadvantages with Simplified Technical English' 2007
https://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:16816/FULLTEXT01

'Technical Writing Need Not Be Abstruse—Use Plain Language for Maximum Impact' 2015
https://digital.gov/2015/10/23/technical-writing-need-not-be-abstruse-use-plain-language-for-maximum-impact/#

'The Facets of the General Public as Audience' 2017
https://www.dropbox.com/s/2u2cybl7c57u0tr/AudienceIssues.pdf?dl=0

Related wiki pages

Plain English
Sentence length
Sentence structure
Words to avoid

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