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Plain Language Makes a Difference When People Vote

Janice (Ginny) Redish, Dana Chisnell, Sharon Laskowski, and Svetlana Lowry

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 5, Issue 3, May 2010, pp. 81 - 103


The authors report on a study in which 45 U.S. citizens in three geographic areas and over a range of ages and education levels voted on two ballots that differed only in the wording and presentation of the language on the ballots.

The study sought to answer three questions:

In addition to voting on the two ballots, study participants commented on pages from the two ballots and indicated their preference page-by-page and overall.

For this study, the answer to all three questions was "yes." Participants performed better with the plain language ballot. Their comments showed that they recognized plain language. They overwhelmingly preferred the plain language ballot.

The authors also discuss issues that arose on both ballots from problems with straight-party voting, with mistaking one contest for another, and with reviewing votes. Based on the study results, the authors provide guidance on language to use on ballots. This article includes links to the two ballots, other materials used in the study, and the full report with more details.


Practitioner’s Take Away

The following are key points from this study:

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Plain Language Makes a Difference When People Vote