Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The right way to present examples in a sentence

The purpose of this article is to draw your attention to the usability, or rather understand-ability of in-sentence examples.

Yeah, you heard me right. In this article my goal is to challenge you in how you write your sentences so that even at this micro level, your user's experience is streamlined. Specifically, what I'm talking about is when you have to provide an example.


The in-sentence example


Today I'm evaluating an interface that has a bunch of stuff that could be better based on some of the UX Industries best practices. I get to a point where I need to to present a few examples within the sentence to better describe what I'm referring to. Here's the sentence I was working on...

"Due to competing levels of visual intensity (i.e. picture of headphones, bright blue button, color gradient in header and footer) on various screens through this course, the user may find it difficult to determine the primary calls to action (i.e. the "Audio Check" button and the "Next" button).

But after looking it over, I realized that I don't even know what "i.e." means! 

i.e.

Right out of the gate, the fact that it is an acronym opens the user to the possibility of misinterpretation. Does "i.e." mean "Independent Engineer" or "Internet Explorer"? After a little further investigation, it turns out that it's an acronym for two Latin words ("id est") that mean 'that is'. 

 Due to the complex symbolism happening here, there are many MANY different ways people have presented this way of typing up in-sentence examples...
  • EI
  • E.I
  • E.I.
  • E. I.
  • E/I
  • E I
  • -ei
  • Ei.
  • ei
  • i. e.
  • i.e
  • i.e.
  • I.e.,
  • I e
  • -ie
  • .ie
  • .i'e
  • .i.e.
  • ie-
  • Ie.
In terms of usability, this way of communicating an in-sentence example is simply confusing. It's heavily reliant on the users existing understanding.

E.g.

Just like "i.e.", this alternative way of presenting in-sentence examples is simply requiring too much from the user. Why would the user have to decode my acronym before they can figure out that, "Oh, these are examples!".

My speculation on the usage of these acronym methods is simply because it makes writer seem more intelligent or sophisticated. But does is that the outcome? Maybe for those people who are using this means are impressed by other peoples choices to use such a method. But what about those folks who just don't get it. They are not impressed. They are confused.

Conclusion

When you have a sentence that requires that you provide a couple examples to help communicate what it is that you are trying to say, in encourage you to really think about how you are going to write that out. Here's how my sentence from early changed...
"Due to competing levels of visual intensity (Examples: picture of headphones, bright blue button, color gradient in header and footer) on various screens through this course, the user may find it difficult to determine the primary calls to action (Examples: the "Audio Check" button and the "Next" button).
I hope this helps you be a better communicator and a better advocate for the user.

Reference

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