Overlooked legalese

Although most technical writers might argue that warranty cards and other legalese does not fall under the standard definition of technical writing, it is certainly a topic area for which many writers have some responsibility. Most often, it's a cut-and-paste from the legal department, or just a matter of picking up the standard boilerplate that goes into every manual, but either way legally-required information is either interspersed or accompanies the instructional content, whether we like it or not.

Years ago, in the manual for the first iBook computers where every topic heading was a user-orientated question, Apple included a section at the back cheekily labeled "Where's the Fine Print?" But for the most part, this type of information is barely considered when designing publications. It's certainly not expected that anyone will actually read it, as evidenced by a recent Government Accountability Office report on the fine print for credit card agreements. The GAO had an expert review the disclosures from the largest credit card issuers and found that they were often written well above an eighth-grade reading level. This puts the text at the far edge of understandability for about half of the U.S. population. Additionally, the report found:

"Contrary to usability and readability best practices, the disclosures buried important information in text, failed to group and label related material, and used small typefaces."

How does the legal section in your manual shape up?

Source: Chicago Tribune

Posted: October 22, 2006 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item