Notes on design

Grice’s Maxims

How the need to be cooperative shapes conversational norms or some guidance on effective communication.

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Grice’s Maxims

I first heard about Grice’s Maxims at a Voice UI design workshop presented by Ben Sauer. They were presented as a useful way to think about voice interactions and it occurred to me that they may have other useful applications for the work I do, primarily in writing help and instructional microcopy for the platform that I work on.

Paul Grice was an academic, known for his work on the philosophy of meaning in language which has influenced the field of semantics. One of his areas of study was how the need to be cooperative shapes conversational norms. He summarises this in a collection of four maxims, as follows.

  • Quantity: provide an adequate amount of information, no more.
  • Quality: ensure the information is accurate.
  • Relation: provide information relevant to the matter at hand
  • Manner: express information clearly and simply.


An ‘opportunity for  improvement’ in my own life. Simply put it means not waffling. Responses should provide an adequate and full response, but no more than is called for.


The quality of the information that one provides should be high. That is to say that it should be accurate and well evidenced rather than supposition or hearsay.


Responses should relate to the matter at hand. That is to say they should be comprised of relevant, non tangential information.


Responses should be delivered in a well-ordered manner, choosing language and phrases that avoid ambiguity and are easily understood by all. They should also be to the point.