User guides are organised around practical tasks, and are formatted to support action. Good user guides use other design patterns from this library: for example, clear layout, skimmable headings, numbered steps, companion icons, icon systems and other visualisations.
Many contract documents include instructions about processes such as delivery or invoicing, but the instructions are buried in dense paragraphs and among clauses. These requirements will be clearer (and more effectively acted upon) if explained using user guide conventions.
A user guide format is ideal where the information is intended to trigger an action – for example, requests for proposals. If bidders understand what you want from them, they will submit clear and compliant bids.
Moreover, contract documents usually have different primary audiences for different types of information. Content that need to be acted upon is often addressed to people outside the legal department. Other clauses which are not intended for action (e.g. boilerplate clauses on applicable law) are usually relevant for legal and compliance specialists. A visual distinction helps signaling for whom a certain piece of information is, so that readers without much appetite for reading contract prose can concentrate only on content relevant for them.
Use the user guide format whenever it is critical that the document is read and acted upon in the correct way. The goal is to reduce transaction friction and unnecessary mistakes.
© 2019 Rob Waller.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License