I haven’t always known about plain language. Before I began studying it, I wrote as clearly and concisely as I could, but I missed an important principle: Translating product features into user tasks. Here’s what I mean:
The other day, when editing a help file, I came across a topic I’d titled, “Using Pay Invoices Online.” Clear enough, yes? Sort of. Because the feature is aptly described, users can figure out that, using this feature, they can pay their invoices online. But what if I titled the topic, “Paying Invoices Online”? Users could then omit the mental step of figuring out if that feature will help them complete their task.
With a well-named feature like this one, applying the task name to the topic closes a small gap between user and product. But with a poorly named feature, it can close a chasm between them.