The Benefits of Plain Language
Professional journals have recorded significant cost benefits from plain-language initiatives:
- In 1991, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tested newly written plain-language form letters and found that they reduced support calls from 1.5 per letter to 0.27 calls per letter. Changes in one letter alone saved the Department more than an estimated $40,000 per year.
- A study by the U.S. Navy concluded that business memos written in plain language could save between $27 and $37 million of their officers’ time each year.
- Ground-operation manuals revised in plain language saved Federal Express an estimated $400,000 in the very first year.
- Computer manufacturer Allen-Bradley found that the clarity of documents delivered with their product are the second most important factor (after product workmanship) that motivates customers to buy. Moreover, plain-language revision of their manuals reduced support calls from 50 a day to two per month.
- Plain-language revision of 200 forms used by Alberta Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development saves the department a total of Can$3.4 million per year.
- Plain-language revision of re-direction-of-mail forms used by the Royal Mail in Britain saved £500,000 in the first nine months.
- Plain-language reforms carried out by other departments in the British Government in the mid-1980s saved £9 million in the first two years.
- In the mid-1980s, the Law Reform Commission of Victoria, Australia, re-wrote in plain language its court summons, eliminating the legal jargon. The new forms enabled the government to reassign 26 staff members and save Aus$400,000 a year in staff salaries alone.
Business analysts have shown that, on average, as much as 40 percent of the total costs of managing all business transactions is spent on problems caused by poor communications.
Today’s companies expend precious resources on email and websites that, when written poorly, fail to inform and communicate. Online documents not only require the same testing as their hardcopy counterparts, but they also present new challenges.
Many websites feature great amounts of information, but they fail to motivate readers to take action. They lack focus on their purpose, on their audience, and on the core competency of the organization.
Clients and customers increasingly judge an organization’s capability by the clarity and quality of its written communications, including newsletters, email, websites, user manuals, letters, legal notices, reports, labels, forms, and procedures.
When workers are careless in their writing, clients and customers lose confidence in the products and services being offered.
Effective writing in any field or organization requires training and method. Make sure those in your organization who produce documents have the writing skills they need for today's competitive world.
| William H. DuBay
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