Tom was queuing at an ATM when a woman turned around to ask him what this meant:
Please enter the amount required in multiples of £10.
Clearly, words like ‘amount’, ‘require’ and ‘multiple’ didn’t mean that much to her. And that’s hardly surprising, because the reading age of this sentence is around 12, but the average reading age in the UK is 9.
Around a quarter of UK adults would fail GCSE English, so imagine how they’d struggle. (GCSE stands for The General Certificate of Secondary Education and is a set of exams in the UK, usually taken by students aged 15–16.)
Never mind non-native speakers, or people with learning difficulties, or people with dementia. Even highly competent readers may still be tired or distracted when they read.
On-screen message reads ‘Please enter the amount required in multiples of £10’
While the right words clear a path for the reader, the wrong ones put obstacles in their way.
Since ATMs are for everyone, the words they use should be clear to as many people as possible. A better version would be something like:
Type in how much money you want. This machine only has £10 and £20 notes in it.
Yes, it’s clunky, but it’s so simple that a child could understand it: the reading age for the text above is just seven. And that’s the right approach when you really need the reader to understand.
PS. It’s the same with everything else you might write. Instead of “Inquire” (or “Enquire” in British English – see how that’s already a problem?), just write “Get the prices” or something similarly straightforward. The fewer fancy words and jargon you use, the more effective your message will be. Sure, it’ll look simple and unsophisticated (don’t use this word on your website) but it will be effective.