Document warnings and special notices are graphical conventions designed to call visual attention to an important piece of content within a process or set of instructions. Manuals that contain procedures for installing hardware or software applications may require a specific order of operations. If the instructions are not properly executed, a possible safety hazard or system failure could result.
Much of the content we write is used internally where use of special notices can loosely be defined on our own accord use whatever convention meets those needs. However for formal product documentation such as electronics or medical devices, formal regulations apply to the labeling or hazard identification. Be sure to do your due diligence when writing technical documentation and consult your legal team and common standards before your content hits the public domain.
Common Special Notice Conventions
Below are common definitions and examples of special notices. They range from the least impactful to personal safety and equipment, to life threatening hazards and equipment damage.
Tip: Tips provides time saving shortcuts or helpful hints to complete a task more quickly than conventional methods. For example, providing an alternative option for a graphic user interface task with a keyboard shortcut. Tips usually follow an instruction to reinforce a task. No repercussions shall occur if the contents of Tip messages are ignored.
Note: This convention is used to provide additional or helpful information to the reader. The note is a brief comment that follows a set of instructions to reinforce a concept or idea. Like the Tip, a lapse in following this information will do no harm.
Important: This special notice indicates material to which the reader should pay close attention. This convention may often follow a statement to provide an alternative solution to a problem or troubleshooting technique. For example, if X occurs, perform Y and continue. It may also be used at the beginning of a set of instructions to call the reader’s attention to an important point before proceeding. The Notice has more weight than the Note and Tip convention and failure to adhere to the contents may have minor setbacks, but ignoring these statements compromises no personal safety.
Caution: Use the caution statement to indicate a hazardous situation, which, if not avoided, could result in minor or moderate bodily injury. The caution notice can also indicate a potential danger to equipment or a possible loss of data. A caution statement is not life threatening; however, it does suggest safety precautions be taken to reduce the likelihood of personal injury, equipment damage, or loss of data.
Warning: The warning style indicates a life-threatening situation where a person could die or sustain serious bodily injury if safety precautions are not followed. The warning statement is highly visible to the reader and explains the risk of the described task. Precise instructions follow the warning convention. Typically, the warning is a yellow triangle or red circle with an exclamation point in the center. Certain rules apply to the Warning convention especially if your content is subject to standards or regulations.
Danger: The danger style indicates a life-threatening situation where a person will die or sustain serious bodily injury. The danger statement is highly visible to the reader and explains the dangers with the task involved. Precise instructions follow the danger notice. Like the Warning convention, special governance may apply depending upon your industry.
Electrical Hazard: This notice indicates that contact with energized equipment may cause an electric shock, burn, or arc flash that may result in personal injury.
Below are a few examples of special notice styles for non-regulated internal training materials. Editable graphical symbols are available on the Downloads page.
Customer facing documentation for consumer products may be regulated, and your documents should follow those industry standards. However you decide to use these document conventions, use consistently throughout all your content.
See the standards under the Reference Sites heading below for more information and to research the proper labeling for your situation. You may also download these vector artwork styles from the Downloads page or from the Download button below.
Depending upon your industry, you may be required to follow more stringent rules; such is the case for ISO, ANSI, IEEE, or FDA regulated content. Consult your legal team should you have questions in regard to the proper labeling of your equipment or adequate warnings in your manuals.
The ANSI Z535 standard comprises the following six individual standards:
ANSI Z535.1 American National Standard for Safety Colors
ANSI Z535.2 American National Standard for Environmental and Facility Safety Signs
ANSI Z535.3 American National Standard for Criteria for Safety Symbols
ANSI Z535.4 American National Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels
ANSI Z535.5 American National Standard for Safety Tags and Barricade Tapes (for Temporary Hazards)
ANSI Z535.6 American National Standard for Product Safety Information in Product Manuals, Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials