Too much information


For whatever reason, some people feel compelled to include a bunch of extra text in their documents, rather than simply referencing or linking to the original source. Worse, this information is frequently retyped from memory or copied from an older version of the data. This behavior frustrates customers, since they have to re-process the extra info and compare it to their mental model of what terms are supposed to be there.

Generally, if you don’t have a really good reason to repeat the information in full, then just tell the reader where to find the original copy. This goes for how-to documentation, purchasing terms, or even directions to your office party. If the audience is already familiar with that info, then providing a web address in normal sized text should do. If the info is less familiar to them, you can emphasize the link with bigger and more prominent text. And if the source isn’t available online, you could say something like “Please see our contract dated January 1, 2008 for full pricing terms.”

Aside from reducing confusion among your readers, there’s another big benefit to this approach. When the original information changes, you only have one document to update: the original copy. Remember, you’re just linking to or mentioning that file, and not including a hacked-up or paraphrased version in dozens or hundreds of separate documents. This makes your life much easier down the road, since there won’t be a bunch of conflicting copies floating around. For your audience, this approach means more consistency and less information to process, which typically saves them time and makes it easier to do business with you.