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How to help people understand your Privacy Policy

Privacy policies have become fairly standard items on company websites. There is much valuable information provided and we really want users of our website to understand what we have written. Since most people do not eagerly read every word of any article or document, it is key to allow them to easily scan documents to find and understand what is presented. This article provides four core elements to remember when creating content that will be read.

Write in plain language

Using plain language has become important enough to result in its own federal government initiative, found at the website plainlanguage.gov.  The key concept is that the reader can understand a statement in one reading. Here are some of the important elements to accomplish this goal:

Write in short sentences. Multiple short sentences are generally easier to digest than one long one, even with lots of appropriate punctuation.

Example:
Change: The company is committed to limiting the use of personal information to the purposes identified in its privacy notice, retaining personal information for as long as necessary to fulfill our business obligations, and disposing of personal information in accordance with our records retention schedule.

To: The company commits to limiting the use of personal information to the purposes identified in its privacy notice. We will retain personal information for only as long as necessary to fulfill our business obligations. Personal information will be disposed of according to our records retention schedule.

Use the simplest and fewest number of words and that express the idea. Eliminate redundant words, such as modifiers that don’t really add value. Watch for words like “of,” “to,” “on.” There is usually a more concise equivalent. A phrase like “a sufficient number of” is succinctly replaced with “enough.”

Example:
Change: Total disclosure of all the facts is very important to make sure we draw up a total and completely accurate picture of the company’s privacy needs.

To: Disclosing all the facts is important to capturing an accurate picture of the company’s privacy needs.

Keep sentences active and avoid turning verbs into nouns; look for words that end in sion, tion, and consider rewording the sentence using the verb.

Example:
Change: This Privacy Policy provides an explanation of how the company makes use of your personal information.

To: This Privacy Policy explains how the company uses your personal information.

For more thoughts on simplifying your content, visit plainlanguage.gov or enter an internet search for plain language. You will find many excellent examples, a number of them easy to understand graphics.

Organize with descriptive headings

Headings help users scan content. Chunking content and labeling it helps people quickly see topics and delve deeper when something interests them. Therefore, making headings descriptive works even better. Which tells you more about what a section contains … a generic title like “Personal Information” or a title such as “How is your Personal Information Used?”

More headings are better than fewer. Again, people are unlikely to consume every word of your content, so develop smaller amounts of content with descriptive headings.

Format with bulleted lists

When content includes a series of items, your reader is well served when you choose bulleted lists over embedding them in a paragraph. Again, it is about quickly locating desired information. The reader is much more likely to see and absorb items that are vertically listed.

  • Example:
    Change: To be ready for your privacy audit: collect all relevant documents, name responsible individuals, and itemize acquired certifications.

To: To be ready for your privacy audit:

    • collect all relevant documents,
    • name responsible individuals, and
    • itemize acquired certifications.

Check readability and grade level

The final things to consider when deciding how likely you are to capture your readers’ attention long enough to get important points across is the readability score and grade level. Since your audience will span a wide range, it is best to keep your grade level lower than 12th grade and 10th is probably even better. These scores will be at least partially impacted by the rest of the tips given in this article. Scores will get even better if you review some of the additional tips found through the plain language site.

Here is how to determine these scores. To evaluate a website, consider one of the calculators on this website: https://www.wyliecomm.com/2021/01/measure-readability-with-these-5-readability-apps/. If you are creating a document in Microsoft Word, the application will automatically generate readability and grade level statistics after you finish running the spellchecker, which is found on the Review tab.

It is important that your users know what your privacy policy says, so use these tips to make it easier for them.

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