Language Log has coined the word "Nerdview" to describe the common situation of writing in technical terms for a non-technical audience. Nerdviews are all around us, to the point where we hardly even notice them anymore.
For example, asking you to input the "CVV2" on your credit card to process an online payment is a classic nerdview, since unless you are in the payment industry you would have no reason to know what a CVV2 is or how to find it. This is so common that most people have figured out that the CVV2 is the three-digit security code on the back of a credit card--even though most cards don't label the code "CVV2" or give any other indication of what it's for.
Nerdviews almost always lead to a worse customer experience, and should be avoided whenever possible. But that can be a challenge because oftentimes the people who have to decide how to communicate important information to the general public are the same ones who are experts in their own narrow field. It can be hard to step outside your expertise and think like a novice.
My personal favorite nerdview was one I encountered many years ago at Vocalabs. One of our clients was an insurance company, and in their automated customer service system one of the prompts asked, "Do you want to know your withdrawal value or your redemption value?" Unless you are in the insurance business, chances are you don't know that a life insurance policy can have two different values, much less what they mean.
Finding and avoiding nerdviews is almost always worthwhile, but it can be a challenge. Nerdviews tend to become invisible to us once we figure out what they mean. Humans are adaptable, and even if you were mystified the first time a government form asked you for your "DOB", chances are the next time you remembered that it meant "Date of Birth" and hardly even noticed.
Here are some tips for uncovering nerdviews:
- Don't assume your audience thinks like you, or that you can put yourself in your shoes. Get feedback from actual customers or users.
- Remember that people adapt to nerdviews quickly, but may ignore or overlook important information if it's not clear. Don't assume that you're communicating well just because your customers or users seem to have figured things out.
- Plain language is usually better than technical precision. If you feel compelled to be technically precise when communicating to a non-technical audience, you may be trapped in a nerdview.
And remember that even if you don't think you're a nerd, we are all nerds about something. Remember your audience, and stay away from the nerdview.