How to Write a User-Friendly “File Not Found” Page

by | May 19, 2009 | Writing Matters Blog | 1 comment

When my recent search for USAID information on preparing your family for an avian flu pandemic dead-ended in a 404 “File Not Found” page, I expected to head back to the drawing board: Google. Then I took a closer look at USAID’s error message page.

Rather than stranding the user, it tries to help by:

  • Linking to the USAID home page where the user may be able to get her bearings and start the search again
  • Linking to the site map, which may seem like a “vintage” method of way-finding but which some users actually prefer
  • Linking to the Help Desk,
    a page that explains in easy-to-read text what each of the main content
    categories contains, what drop-downs are, and the right-hand navigation
    relates to the content on each page
  • Providing a search field and allowing the user to search all/part of the USAID web site or the Internet instead.

Now THAT’s attention to detail.

Do you have a favorite “File Not Found” page? (Am I really asking this question?!) If so, let us know.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

P.S. I never did find the exact avian flu page I had been looking for, but I did use the search field in the “File Not Found” page to find other relevant info.

Tags: Usability

1 Comment

  1. Deborah Aker just sent me a great example of a 404 “File Not Found” page. Check out Greenpeace’s 404 at Talk about making the most of a broken link! Greenpeace’s reasons the page is missing include:
    “1. The page may be extinct, like many whales, chimpanzees, and gorillas in the wild could be without your help.” and “2. The page may have moved, like many Pacific Islanders will have to do when their homes sink beneath the waves due to global warming.”
    Thanks, Deborah!

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