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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Use a Simple Tense and Voice

User Need

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

What to Do

Use the tense and the voice that is easiest to understand. In English, this is usually the present tense and active voice. Speak directly to the user, and use the simplest form of verbs and sentence structure.

Use local plain language guidance to find the tense and the voice that is easiest to understand in different languages.

How it Helps

Using simple tense and voice benefits many people such as people with language impairments, dyslexia, or a memory impairment. For example, more people will understand “press the on button” (present tense and active voice) than “the on button should be pressed.” (passive voice).

Active voice makes it clear who is supposed to take action. For example, “It must be done.” is passive voice ad does not say who must act. “You must do it.” is active voice and clearly states who has the action.

Putting the aim of the sentence at the beginning can also make English sentences easier to follow. Local language experts may have additional linguistic advice that helps make content easy to understand.

More Details

  • Use other voices or tenses when they will be easier to understand or friendlier.
  • In languages where present tense and active voice do not exist or are not the clearest option, use the tense and the voice that are easiest to understand.
  • If you are writing about past or future events, do not use the present tense. It will be confusing.



  1. Simple tense and language. For example: “Your stocks went up this month.”


  1. Complex language and tense. For example: “Over the last month, we saw your stocks increasing.”

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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