Jargon and Secret Codes

How often have you tried to read a web site only to find that it is packed with jargon and secret codes in the form of acronyms and abbreviations that are never spelled out? Sometimes it appears that the author’s intent was to obfuscate their meaning for all but a select few individuals who are already in the know. When building a web site there are some simple techniques and some oft overlooked markup that can alleviate this problem.

Have someone else read it

Go find a person completely unconnected to the text and have them read it and tell you what it means. This could be a coworker, friend, significant other, your mom, or even the barrista at the Starbucks. It doesn’t matter as long as they are a pair of fresh uninformed eyes. Have them point out the parts that don’t make sense. If the site is for a client take their exact quotes such as ‘was this translated from Korean?’ and ‘I’m not sure, but I think they specialize in B.S.’ and use them as examples to get your point across that a rewrite is in order. If you are the one responsible, please consider the fact that what is obvious to you may be gibberish to 99% of the population.

Use the acronym tag

Did you get the memo about the TPS reports? Who the hell even knows what TPS reports are? (Actually my friend Skippy worked at a place that used them, he was really excited when he called to tell me the horrifying news) If you use the acronym tag then perhaps everyone will know what TPS, or ACR, or GID, or SMILGRTS stands for (I just made those up, they have no meaning here). Just add a little bit of simple markup and some CSS to help the browsers display it a little better and everyone will be in the know. For example:

The <acronym title="Information Architecture">IA</acronym> of your site makes as much sense as the Labyrinth at Knossos.

You can then use the following CSS to improve how it displayed.

acronym {
    border-bottom: dotted #666 1px;
    cursor: help;

The same thing can be done with the abbr tag for abbreviations. Remember that the goal of most web sites is to communicate information to the people who visit them. In order to do so we must be open to the idea that what we write is not always clear to others. Accept constructive criticism, actively seek it out, and use proper markup to assist your readers in breaking your secret codes.

Kevin Hall
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