The 5 Es of content usability

Comments Off on The 5 Es of content usability Written on February 28th, 2010 by
Categories: Articles

I’ve long been a fan of Whitney Quesenbery’s 5 Es of usability: effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant and easy to learn. They’re a great way to explain what usability is — to make ‘easy to use’ or ‘user friendly’ more meaningful to clients, designers, developers.

I think the 5 Es can also be helpful for understanding content usability. And given the state of content on many websites, we can do with a little more understanding! So here’s my version of the 5 Es applied to content.


Effective content is:

  • Relevant. It meets users information needs, answers their questions, helps them complete their tasks or meet their goals. It is not fluff, happy talk, welcome messages or things people already know or don’t care about.
  • Complete. There are no gaps or pieces missing. Users can get what they need from it.
  • Clear and unambiguous. The message is communicated effectively. No risks are taken by trying to be cute or clever.
  • Accurate and up-to-date.


Efficient content is:

  • Fast to find via navigation or search.
  • Easy to read. It uses common, everyday words. It does not force users to look up dictionaries or glossaries or memorise acronyms or abbreviations. It uses short sentences. It avoids passive voice, weak verbs and double negatives.
  • Concise. It has been reviewed and edited, and non-essential words removed.
  • Structured well. The important or most frequently used information is at the top. Related information is grouped together. It has a logical sequence.
  • Designed for scan-reading. Headings, lists, tables and graphics make it easy for users to see what they’re looking for.


Engaging content is:

  • Presented well on screen. It looks clean and uncluttered rather than busy and dense.
  • Neither too formal, nor too informal.
  • Not afraid to use personal pronouns. It speaks to ‘you’ rather than ‘customers’, and it is from ‘us’ rather than ‘the Department of Some Excruitiatingly Long Name’.

Error tolerant

Error tolerant content is:

  • Clear and unambiguous. The content is unlikely to be misundertood by users.
  • Accurate and up-to-date.

Easy to learn

Easy to learn content is:

  • Written using familiar terms. Users do not have to struggle with jargon or words they are unfamiliar with.
  • Structured and presented to aid comprehension.
  • Supported by examples, images or illustrations where needed.