Roda Nour and Katie Yoon, Nov 15, 2020
The COVID-10 pandemic has precipitated much national chaos and confusion with regard to the legal process of evictions. Several local governments and courts have been adjusting their policies to accommodate the current catastrophe, such as by placing temporary moratoriums on evictions or relaxing payment deadlines for tenants.
In response to this housing crisis, we have been working as part of the Stanford Legal Design Lab to build a Legal FAQs platform providing jurisdiction-specific eviction information on a local, state, and federal level. Our primary task as summer interns these past few months has involved achieving 50-state coverage on legal, easily understandable content for people facing eviction lawsuits.
Based on the skills and knowledge we have acquired while working on the eviction platform, we have written below an easy guide to creating user friendly FAQs.
1. USING SIMPLE LANGUAGE
One of the most important things to keep in mind when creating user friendly FAQs is your audience. Who are you writing this for? It’s very easy to lose ourselves in legalese or whatever technical jargon we’re familiar with, to assume that we’re all on the same page, and for our audience to be left behind. As silly and Elementary-esque as it sounds, sometimes it helps to read what you’re writing out loud. If it sounds too complicated or verbose, you know that you need to go back and edit to try to keep it simple, both in language and conceptually. Keeping the language basic and easy to understand ensures that your users, no matter their background, can always follow along.
2. KEEPING CONSISTENT WORDING
On this same line of thought, it’s important to have plain language consistency. One way to do this is by creating an overall general template that you can use for each portion of your FAQs, and then to fill in the pertinent information as you go through answering the specific questions. This way the wording will be consistent all throughout.
3. REVIEWING WITH PARTNER
Be sure to review your work. It’s a great idea to work in a team or with a partner; this way you can review each other’s work to make sure that you are both using plain language, and using a template ensures that you both are using consistent language. You can catch things your partner might have overlooked or missed and vice versa.
4. TRACKING SOURCES
Another tip for creating FAQs is to keep a list of sources as you conduct your own research. Our team worked on creating FAQs for all 50 states. Starting was very difficult — not knowing how to navigate all the legal codes and research out there made it slow going, but once you begin to recognize sources that you can use or even certain terms or phrases to search, it becomes much easier. And so keeping a list of the sources or phrases you use to research will help you as you curate FAQs.
5. REACHING OUT TO EXPERTS
It’s also extremely important to prevent people from finding the wrong information. You can do this by reaching out to volunteers, professionals in whatever field you’re creating FAQs for, and asking them to review your work and ensure the accuracy of your answers. In our case, if even one of our answers is incorrect, and people read our FAQs and think that they have more time to answer an eviction suit than they really do, it can have serious consequences. This is why it’s very important to verify your work as you go along.
We at the Legal Design Lab used this process to successfully develop eviction FAQs and anyone can follow this guide to create their own set of user-friendly FAQs. One of the biggest takeaways from this article is to be mindful of your audience — FAQs packed with jargon aren’t useful to anyone, so make sure to use simple language! Through these five easy steps, — using simple language, keeping wording consistent, reviewing your work, tracking your sources, and reaching out to experts, you’ll be able to create accessible and easy to understand FAQs while maintaining verified correct information.