Heuristic evaluations are a variation of usability inspections where specialists judge in depth if each aspect of an interface follows the principles of usability.
For Nielsen, usability has multiple components and is traditionally associated with four attributes: learning, efficiency, error handling, and satisfaction. These four categories give birth to heuristics. using real-life errors found by specialists and in order to ensure a best possible cost-benefit ratio, Nielsen analyzed and refined countless directives and inspection lists (249 user issues) and regrouped them into these 10 principles. Source.
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.