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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Use Clear Words

User Need

I need to understand the language used, including vocabulary, syntax, tense, and other aspects of language.

What to Do

  • Use common and clear words in all content. Look at the most common 1500 words or phrases. These are the terms that people with severe language impairments are most likely to know.
  • Remove unnecessary or vague words (such as: “and so forth”).
  • Remove or explain uncommon acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon.
  • Do not invent new words or give words new meanings in your application. Do not expect people to learn new meanings for words just to use your content. If you must create new terms, make sure the user has access to an explanation within one click or event.

How it Helps

This benefits many people such as those with language impairments, processing difficulties, or a memory impairment. Using uncommon words can make text and media difficult to understand.

People with language impairments often have a reduced vocabulary. Learning new terms is a very slow, difficult process. For other groups, such as people living with dementia, learning new terms is not realistic or possible. Using uncommon words, that they do not already know, will make the content incomprehensible (unable to be understood) and unusable.

For example, someone with mild dementia is trying to turn on an ICT heating and air conditioning unit. The menu item for selecting heat or air conditioning is labeled “mode”. The user cannot use the whole unit because of this one term. This type of design has caused emergencies such as hypothermia.

Using common words and terms, with their most common meanings will help avoid these problems.

See our developer resource page for pages of common words and related resources.

More Details

When using uncommon words, provide an explanation by:

  • adding a simple language term in brackets next to it,
  • providing a pop up definition, or
  • using supported markup (see easylang). Note that easylang is being introduced into the new personalization specifications [[personalization-semantics-help-1.0]]. At the time of publication more support is needed.

Getting Started

Start using clear words in headings, labels, navigational elements, instructions, and error messages. This will increase the usability without a large time commitment.



  1. Common, clear, and easy to understand words and definitions of terms. For example:

    Your landlord must follow the law.

    • Your landlord can only use your security deposit (promise money), for certain things, such as unpaid rent (rent that you owe) and to fix things that you damage.
    • Your landlord must return your security deposit (promise money) to you by a clear date. This is usually 30 days after you leave the apartment.
  1. Abbreviations that are explained the first time they are used, unless the abbreviation is more common than the full term. Abbreviations are in an abbreviation tag with a title after the first use.
  2. Acronyms that are not in common use, are explained the first time they are used, and are in an acronym tag with a title after that.
  3. Jargon that is avoided or explained.


  1. Uncommon words without explanations. For example:

    A Landlord’s Right to Deduct. When a tenant moves into a rental property, he or she will pay the landlord a security deposit. Depending on the jurisdiction, this deposit will be returned to the tenant within a specific time period at the cessation of the lease term, as long as the tenant follows all the terms and tenants of the lease agreement or contract. Select links below to read the laws that pertain to your situation.

  1. Abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon that the user may not know and are not explained.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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