Louise Downe, who works at the UK’s Government Digital Service, wrote a blog post (Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns), where she stated:
“After several rounds of user testing, the Home Office changed the name of ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’ to ‘check if you need to pay towards your health care in the UK’ – a service that allows visitors to the UK to pay for the cost of healthcare.”
Now, most Technical Authors would use the gerund “checking” rather than the imperative “check”.
The Home Office is not alone in writing in this way. Here is a link to Help topic in Citrix’s new documentation portal: Create a new deployment.
Why are organisations doing this?
There are a number of reasons why organisations are taking this approach:
- Many users of Software as a Service applications are using Search Engines to find answers, and they are typing questions (“how do I create….”) into the search box. Using the imperative means the heading of the Help topics match closely the questions entered by users.
- A lot of websites take this approach, and some organisations believe it feels more modern.
Is this a good change?
This is a positive change if, in the Home Office’s case, the verb is replacing a noun in the heading. It’s also a positive change if it means the Help topic is more likely to appear highly in the Search Engine rankings.
On the negative side, users might feel they are being told an action is mandatory – they have to check if you need to pay towards their health care, or they have to create a server deployment – when it’s not. If this leads to confusion, there might be legal implications.
To get around this problem, some organisations are taking a slightly different approach, which combines the imperative and the gerund.
We’ll be looking at this in more detail, together with other new developments in our next Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques training course, which will be held on Thursday 17th September 2015.