Software licensing agreements, typically called EULAs are probably one of the most boring documents you will ever have to read. But, it is important that you do, as the devil is in the detail and the repercussions of not doing so expensive. If you are one of those people who are tasked with this, but put off doing it, help may be at hand! Research by T. Franklin Waddell at Penn State College of Communications has found that changing design of the licensing agreement layouts makes them more easily understandable and as a result more likely to be read.
No time to read everything cover-to-cover
Key seems to be changing the actual licensing agreement layouts. Doing things like removing jargon, using bullet points and spreading out terms over multiple pages all helps to make it more readable.
This should come as no surprise in our information overload age. Anything written that looks like the cover of The Times from 1900 will simply not get read, irrespective of the quality of the content. In a work environment, people rarely read anything from cover to cover these days. Not because they don’t want to but simply because they don’t have the time.
Make it scannable
The software companies need to take a leaf out of the copywriter’s handbook. When writing for the Web the aim is to break information down to make it easily scannable. Section headings, bullet points, short sections and selective of use of bold all help to break up information on the most complex subject, for quick understanding. If the reader then decides it is relevant, they are more likely to read the thing in its entirety.
Hopefully, the legal people at the major software manufacturers will have taken note of this research and start to apply it. I wouldn’t bank it on though as they seem to want to make their licensing as complex and byzantine as possible. So don’t hold your breath if you are looking for a change!