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Test your assumptions

Testing your content should be an integral part of your writing and planning process—not just something you just do after the fact. It’s especially important to test our assumptions in government, because we’re often writing for thousands or even millions of people.

Testing your writing to make sure it’s clear to users can save you time in answering questions later.

Whether you’re writing for websites, brochures, videos, social media, pubic affairs, or print materials, we recommend these same techniques to test individual pages or complete chunks of content.

When to test

Start as soon as you have enough material to test. Don’t wait until your website has been coded or your document is complete. You can test your new material using a Word or PowerPoint document; you can test a large website or document in sections. You can also test existing websites and documents.

Test as early as you can in the project, whether you’re creating something new or making revisions. Test, make corrections based on feedback, and test again. Plan to test at least twice. This process of testing, revising, and re-testing is called “iteration.” Iteration is part of what makes usability testing so effective.

Tests to explore

You can use several techniques to help you improve your document so that the final version will be successful:

  • Paraphrase testing: individual interviews, best for short documents, short web pages, and to test the questions on a survey
  • Usability testing: individual interviews, best for longer documents and web sites where finding the right information is important; also best for forms. See usability.gov.
  • Controlled comparative studies: large scale studies where you don’t meet the people but you collect statistics on responses; use paraphrase testing and usability testing on a smaller scale first.

Focus groups are discussions in which you learn about users’ attitudes and expectations more than about whether they can find and understand information. Therefore, they are more relevant to understanding your audience before you write than to testing. For more on focus groups, see usability.gov.