How we understood the way users refer to a changed conversion date

Through the research we had done so far, we understood that there was a specific slang term that caseworkers and delivery officers used to refer to a conversion project that was no longer going to complete on the originally agreed date.

We heard user say, multiple times, that a conversion had "slipped" if it was going to be late.

Use the language your users use

As content designers, we must make sure the language we use is language that our users recognise and understand.

With public-facing services, this is often a case of using plain English at all times so that anyone is able to understand it irrespective of their circumstances and pre-existing knowledge.

For products and services that are designed for civil servants to use, that can become a bit more complicated.

Specific language clashing with plain English and accessibility

We need to balance accessibility with specific knowledge and language that users use in their jobs.

With "slip", "slipped", "slippage" and other variations of that in use, we initially wondered if there was a less joargonistic, more accessible word we could use instead.

An obvious candidate was delay.

Asking users about the language they use

However, when speaking to users, it turned out that delay was already language they used in a specific context and it had a slightly different meaning to slip.

Users have 2 different words for a project that won't convert on schedule.

  • slipped
  • delayed

These words have two distinct meanings.

The meaning of slipped

A slipped project is one where the school is no longer due to open as an academy on the initially agreed date because of a problem or complication with legal issues. This could include things like:

  • land ownership
  • documentation and signatures

The meaning of delayed

A project is referred to as delayed when the school, trust or local authority request and change to the date.

They might ask for the conversion to be delayed for a number of reasons, which might include:

  • lack of capacity
  • damage to school buildings that need to be repaired
  • change of staff involved in the process

Describe the thing that is happening

This left us with limited options to clearly explain the thing that was happening. However, this helped make the decision and arguably led us to a better use of language.

It meant we did not need to change language that experiences users recognised for something more accessible, which could have caused pain and frustration with conflicting language in use.

It forced us to use language that simply described the thing the would happen.

Rather than "Slip the project" or "Delay the project", users would see phrases like "Change conversion date" and "Confirm new conversion date" on buttons.

A grey secondary action button that says "Change conversion date". A green primary action button that says "Confirm new conversion date"

This more specific and descriptive term communicates more clearly what the action is and what will happen when the user interacts with the button.

It also uses plain English so that both experience and new users should be able to understand what it refers to without having to ask questions or unlearn terminology.

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