I think we would all agree that texts with errors can cause serious damage, from putting the reputation of a company or author at risk, to equipment damage due to misunderstandings of technical manuals, for example, and even to accidents that endanger lives.

If you provide your audience unclear and incorrect documents, they may start doubting the quality of your products and even stop trusting you altogether. When readers discover an error, they could end up focusing on the error instead of the rest of the message. Your (potential) customers might be left thinking, “if there are errors in their texts, is it possible that their products also contain mistakes and might malfunction? Are they the right partner to meet my needs? Should I really buy their products or find another provider?” All of this can lead to significant losses for your business.


The “hidden” cost for the reader

However, the cost of such errors or documentation that is difficult to understand can also be more subtle, and neither you nor your readers may even be aware of it. I am referring to the higher cognitive cost that this entails. What happens in our brain when we encounter errors while reading or when a text is not easy to understand? Several eye-tracking studies, for instance, report slowdowns in information processing.

This is important because, after all, you want your reader to fully understand the information you are trying to convey, whether you are explaining the benefits your products offer or their specifications or how to use a piece of equipment your customer has recently purchased from you, for example.

To understand why this is the case, we need to understand how we read. Unlike what many people believe, when we read, our eyes do not move in a continuous line, but “jump” forward (these eye movements are called “saccades”) and then fixate on certain words before they jump again. When we have trouble understanding what we are reading, the eyes make backward movements called “regressions” to re-read the parts we had difficulty comprehending, and the fixation times before the next saccade are longer.

There are many aspects, such as working memory capacity and vocabulary knowledge, that influence how we read and the difficulties we might encounter, and the process is much more complex than what is relevant here. However, eye-movement data can provide useful information about sentence processing. Attention and processing limitations determine how much information can be obtained in each fixation; that is why the time readers spend on a word is a good reflection of the processing time associated with that word. Regressions are often associated with difficulties in processing a word or the meaning or structure of a sentence. In short, the more challenging it is for the reader to grasp the meaning of a text, the longer the fixation times, the shorter the saccades and the higher the number of regressions will be. In other words, if your documentation is not clear and error free, it will take your readers longer to process and understand the information you are trying to convey, which of course is not what you want.


Helping customers by offering them the best experience

In a time when everything revolves around efficiency, and in an effort to make your services and products more user-friendly, you also have to take your texts into consideration. You want your customers to have the best experience possible with your products, to learn how to start using their recent purchase quickly and properly, to use their new piece of equipment to its full potential.

It goes without saying that poor spelling and grammar have never made a good impression on anyone. Just as you strive to make the images you use in your manuals clear and correct, for example, you have to ensure that the texts used in all your documentation (original and translations) are clear and error-free. This will also help you show the quality of your products and make a good impression on your audience.

Just as you invest time and effort in designing and making your products, you should also invest time and effort in your documentation. After all, the end user will judge the entire package, so you do not want to start off on the wrong foot by providing them incorrect texts. Remember: Some errors cost money, and some could even cost lives; at the very least, they will mean a higher cognitive cost for your reader, but there will always be a cost.

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Image source: Gerd Altmann | Pixabay