Stop using ‘simply’ in tech instructions

When writing tech instructions, it’s easy for bad habits to creep in. Maybe it’s relying too much on jargon. Maybe it’s relying too heavily on one explanation.

Bad habits can harm your tech instructions, alienating your audience and clouding your message. And one of the most common (and most alienating) bad habits is using the word ‘simply’.

So, here’s why you should stop using ‘simply’ in your tech instructions.

It’s simply exclusionary

The word ‘simply’ is exclusionary. Your reader might not find the task simple at all. After all, if they did, they might not have needed your tech instructions.

When you use ‘simply’, and a user doesn’t find the task simple, you show that you’re not on their wavelength.

At best, this earns mild annoyance from a user that muddles through their confusion. At worst, it makes the reader feel stupid. It suggests that the instructions — or even the products — are too complex for them to use, and they give up.

It’s simply redundant

It’s not the assumption alone that makes using ‘simply’ problematic, either. ‘Simply’ is also redundant in any set of tech instructions. Regardless of whether the action is simple or not, telling your readers that it is doesn’t provide any value.

If the action is simple, the reader will know. After all, they’re the ones that have understood the instruction and experienced the simplicity of the task.

If the action isn’t simple, meanwhile, telling someone that it is doesn’t help. They’re still going to struggle to understand and follow the instruction. In these cases, instead of lazily telling your user that it’s simple, make the instruction simple.

It’s far better to show someone that something is simple than it is to tell them that it is.

It’s simply not alone

‘Simply’ isn’t the only word that needs to stay out of your tech instructions. There are plenty of other offenders.

  • Obviously

If it were obvious, why would you bother to explain it? What might seem obvious to you can prove alien to someone else. ‘Obviously’ is another term that can belittle your readers. When you use it in your tech instructions, you assume readers know what you know already. This makes readers that don’t know the ‘obvious’ feel unwelcome or excluded.

  • Basically

Starting any of your tech instructions with ‘basically’ lands somewhere between patronising and condescending. It suggests to your readers that you’re ‘dumbing down’ your instructions for them.

  • Easy

Another way of saying ‘simply’. If it’s simple, easy, straightforward, or any other synonym, one of two things happens. Either the user wouldn’t need the instructions to begin with, or they would discover the inherent ease of the task through following the instructions.

Stop using ‘simply’ in tech instructions

Tech instructions read better without ‘simply’ clogging them up. You don’t need to tell people that something is ‘simple’, or ‘obvious’ or ‘easy’. Your users can form those opinions themselves.

All users need from you is clear, understandable tech instructions that let them get back to using your product, rather than arguing with it.

Stop telling your users how to view your instructions. Tell them how to use it, fix it, and look after it.

Useful links

Communication, technical support, and the Pictionary problem

Tech assumptions make an ass of your users

How to be a tech hero: seven technical support tips