Simplifying the most common taxpayer communications
The IRS sends millions of communications each year—most of which are overly complex, cluttered, and full of jargon.
To improve the taxpayer experience, our team proposed a new design featuring:
- A modular system of reusable content "Recipes" for combining standard content elements into different notices
- Improved content—prominent summary of what action to take, clear headings, everyday language
- Consistent design—a simple template that can be used for a range of communications
Understanding what information we needed to include
To help us figure out what information the IRS was asking for, we would create these "spaghetti diagrams". This made it pretty obvious that the forms were way too complicated.
Writing and designing prototypes of 80+ high-volume tax notices
Over the course of a year, I worked with the IRS to define the main message of each document and find ways to consolidate, edit, and rewrite.
Testing for comprehension and perception
We did a lot of qualitative and quantitative testing to see what areas to improve. In addition to helping plan the research, I wrote survey questions, created test materials, and made recommendations based on the results.
Keeping track of content modules
Most notices fell into two categories (request for information or request for payment), so we created content modules that can be reused across notices. To keep track of what went where, I created and maintained a content library in an Excel spreadsheet—not the most high-tech content management system, but it was a start.
More consistency, lower costs, higher reader comprehension
- Out clients at the IRS were thrilled with the outcome (well, as thrilled as government employees tend to get)
- 71% of research participants preferred the new format
- Since the content was reusable, the notice creation process got a bit more efficient
- This project won the grand prize from the Center for Plain Language
Provide a better experience for 300 million taxpayers by making IRS communications easier to understand.
As part of a team of writers and designers, I helped develop a communications strategy for the IRS’s most common tax notices and forms. Our system was based on a simple template and reusable content modules.
HOW I HELPED
- Content analysis
- Concept development, prototyping, user research
- Writing and information design
- Content management