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IRS – Usability Case Study

Acronyms and jargon are fine when you want to communicate quickly to an internal audiences or to like-minded readers. Once the scope of your audience widens, however, these elements can make your pages harder to understand. The IRS recognized that its pages about tax planning for retirement were reaching an audience beyond tax professionals, and asked the DigitalGov User Experience Program to help test for usability and user experience.

After watching the tests, stakeholders and the testing team agreed that the following three problems presented obstacles to usability and a good user experience, and could be easily fixed.

There was too much information on the page. Users were presented with a massive list of links, but no guidance on this landing page about where to begin.

The amount of links on the page were greatly reduced, and brief plain language explanations were added for each featured link in the main body of the page.

Problem 2: Navigation Paths for Different Audiences Not Identified

Information on the page was geared toward many different users, but was not clearly identified. With no immediate direction towards information relevant to them, users could become quickly discouraged from continuing.

Solution 2: Group Specific Pages Together and Add Clear Navigation

Pages relating to specific groups of users were grouped together, and clear navigation was added to the landing page which guided users to the most relevant information for them.

Problem 3: Jargon and Inconsistent Language Confused Users

The use of jargon and acronyms (ex. EPCRS, SARSEPs) compounded user confusion. Language was also inconsistent from one page to the next—some pages had different titles than the links which the users clicked.

Solution 3: Simplify Language

An emphasis was placed on using plain language wherever possible on the site. The different audience groups are addressed in terms they would easily understand given their roles.

The IRS team took the ideas from the First Fridays test and was able to implement them as part of their broader IRS website redesign.

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