Guidance notes are extra information within a document to enable the users to understand how to complete the boxes or fields, answer the questions posed, respond to a requirement, understand the impact of specific legal topics, or how to find out more about a topic.
Contract readers often struggle with legal jargon, as well as technical jargon specific of a particular industry, because they are not universally understood.
In some cases, inexperienced contract users need guidance on how to fill in a standard contract template, choose between options, understand some of the legal background to a section, or grasp the implications of a clause.
Sometimes guidance notes are available, but they are placed out of context – e.g. in a schedule, annex or separate document. Separate notes are problematic, because they are:
Most commonly used with inexperienced contract users – either new businesses or consumers who have little experience with using contracts – or where a new edition of a contract is launched to help experienced users understand what has changed. Guidance notes ensure every user has the same understanding, even if they are familiar with the specific terminology or jargon of the document.
Guidance notes also help users respond to requirements which may not be immediately clear. For example: a reference number needs to be quoted – where can it be found? An incident needs to be reported – but to whom, and how?
Moreover, guidance notes are useful when creating digital contracts through a Q&A approach: guidance notes to help respondents answer questions and fill in fields correctly.
These notes work by framing the legal content into a user context. Guidance notes can use plainer language, conversational style and tone, and include links to further resources. They are often implemented as a box, with separate typeface and and colours to distinguish them from the legal content in a contract or transactional parts of the document.
Guidance notes can also help the writer to relate the content to the context, consider the impact on both parties to a contract and create a fairer more balanced approach. Often poor contract documentation sometimes assumes greater knowledge of the other party’s procedures than is actually the case. Guidance notes can be added in response to feedback or common errors. This saves mistakes, and builds relationships.
© 2022 Sarah Fox, 500 Words Ltd. & Rob Waller.