Skip to Content
SBMI Horizontal Logo

Users' Language

Please use these links to move easily from one guideline to another.

Consistency Visiblity Match Minimalism Memory Feedback Flexibility
Error Messages Prevent Errors Closure Undo Language Control Help
Return to General Design Principles Index

The language should be always presented in a form understandable by the intended users.

To make information presented in the EHR understandable, use words that are familiar to the users. Words that are more frequently seen and heard are better and more quickly recognized. The use of made-up words and jargons should be avoided. If highly specialized language is to be used, make sure the intended users are specialized group that can understand. Additionally, the system should use the standard meanings of words in the clinical setting. For example, “vitals” in most medical settings are measures of various physiological statistics (i.e. body temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure). Avoid using other meanings of this word that are likely to confuse the users.

The EHR should also use user-centered language, in which words are presented in users’ perspective. This way of language representation is always simple and direct, and thus easy for user to understand. For example, “You can search the meaning of the word by clicking the link” is a better representation than “The link is for you to search the meaning of the word”. Abbreviations can sometimes be difficult to understand and should be used with caution.

Guidelines summary:

Use familiar words and their standard meanings

  • Don't use clever phrases and marketing lingo that make people work too hard to figure out what you're saying. [1] Nielsen’s 19
  • Don't use made-up words for category navigation choices. [1] Nielsen’s 44
  • Use standard abbreviations, such as p.m. or P.M.  Don't abbreviate further, such as "p." [1] Nielsen’s 108
  • Avoid jargon. [2] 15:2
  • Describe substances in a common, unambiguous terminology (where possible). [3] CUI (Design Guidance - Displaying Adverse Drug Reaction Risks) p.7
  • Phrasing of menu items: use familiar and consistent terminology, ensure that items are distinct from one another, use consistent and concise phrasing, and position the key words to the left of the text string. [3]

Users’ perspective

  • Only use imperative language such as "Enter a City or Zip Code" for mandatory tasks, or qualify   the statement appropriately. [1] Nielsen’s 24
  • Use customer-focused language. [1] Nielsen’s 17
  • Use active voice. [2] 15:9
  • Write instructions in the affirmative. [2] 15:10

Use abbreviation with caution

  • Spell out abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms, and immediately follow them by the abbreviation, in the first instance. [1] Nielsen’s 25
  • Define acronyms and abbreviations. [2] 15:4
  • Use abbreviations sparingly. [2] 15:5
  • Use standard abbreviations, such as p.m. or P.M.  Don't abbreviate further, such as "p." [1] Nielsen’s 108
Please note:The content provided here are intended as guidelines (recommended, but not mandatory) for design and implementation, not as standards (mandatory, minimum requirements). 


[1] Nielsen J. 113 design guidelines for homepage usability. 2001; Available

[2] U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. The Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, Enlarged/Expanded edition. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006. Available from:

[3] Microsoft. Microsoft Health Common User Interface design guidance. 2012; Available to download from: (Design Guidance - Find a Patient PDF).

[4] Lowry SZ, Quinn MT, Ramaiah M, Brick D, Patterson ES, Zhang J, et al. A human factors guide to enhance EHR usability of critical user interactions when supporting pediatric patient care. The National Institute of Standards and Technology; 2012.