Language selection

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Ear to the ground: using the words people use

The way government talks can be quite different than how people outside of government talk. As a public servant, I know I’ve been guilty of using specialized language that loses meaning when it leaves the context of my team or department. I’ve also been on the other side, lost while trying to navigate a government website, or frustrated while trying to search different combinations of words, to find the right form.

That’s why it’s important to remember that, if we’re serving the public, we should use words people use every day. Otherwise, when people need to access services, like a ‘Report a cybercrime’ service, for instance, they may struggle to find it, to understand it, and to use it.

Working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), we’ve been exploring what “cybercrime” actually means to victims of cybercrime and how that can differ from the language government and law enforcement use. Learning how people describe their experiences can help us design a more intuitive service.

Tuning in to how people talk about cybercrime

After talking with people who have been affected by cybercrime, we learned that most don’t identify themselves as victims of “cybercrime”. People also don’t immediately mention the type of cybercrime they’ve experienced. Rather, they talk about the impact of the experience. They describe it from their own perspective: how much money they lost, the emotions they felt, or which technologies were harmed.

During research sessions, we heard things like:

“I was scammed.”

“We lost money.”

“The computer was hacked.”

“I received suspicious emails.”

“I was very scared and didn’t know what to do.”

“J’ai perdu des renseignements personnels. Ma réaction: j’étais en colère.”

By talking with victims, we’re hoping to shape the content of the service so that it speaks to their actual needs. We’re collecting quotes every time we go out and meet people who might use this service. This gives us data to make informed decisions about the words we use.

Putting words to the test

Having an idea of how people describe cybercrime is a good start, but it’s not enough. To make sure we get the service right, we have to keep going back to victims of cybercrime to test our assumptions.

We knew the content in our first concept would be far from perfect. By releasing something early, with a goal of continuous iteration, we learned a whole lot about what people expect. Here’s a glimpse of how the first concept changed after people tried it out:

Caption: The first image is a screenshot of a page that reads: “Do you suspect a scam, cybercrime, or fraud?” The second image is a new version of the page, which now reads, “Report a scam”.

We learned that:

  • Simple language is not always straightforward language. We experimented with a casual, conversational tone in the first iteration and learned that asking a question, rather than giving direction, was confusing. As a result, we switched to instructions in Iteration 2.

  • People recognize a “scam” more easily than a “cybercrime”. Starting with a broad question that included “cybercrime”, “fraud”, and “scams” was ambiguous, but it gave us insight into which word resonates most with people.

  • People have different expectations of “sharing” and “reporting”. We heard things like “By sharing it, would I be spreading it?” and “I don’t think I would share this with anybody. I would be scared that something would be attached to it.” Instead, people wanted to report, and, in return, expected an investigation or a follow-up in the near future.

  • The purpose has to be clearly stated. People weren’t sure whether the prototype was meant to test their knowledge or if it might be a scam itself. We made adjustments: paring down content, being specific about which government or law enforcement entity was asking for information, and having a stronger call to action.

While we’ve learned a lot from the victims we’ve spoken with so far, we have more work to do. Follow along as we continue to explore how to help people impacted by cybercrime feel supported and willing to report their experience.

Help us design a better service bilingually

We know that the way people describe cybercrime and victimhood might vary depending on the language. Admittedly, we haven’t yet had as many conversations in French as we’ve had in English. We need your help to better serve Canadians and give them consistent experiences that work in both official languages.

Do you speak French? Get in touch to share your cybercrime experience or join us for an upcoming prototype test session.