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The Costs of Poor Writing

EVERYDAY, thousands of people pick up a piece of worth-while information but find it too difficult to read. Almost without thinking, they put it down and go do something else. That piece of information may have been a legal notice, a newsletter, an advertisement, or something you put a lot of time and effort into. Because it was not easy-to-read, an opportunity was lost.

How much money and time do you waste in:

It is a mistake to think that the costs of poor writing are an unavoidable expense of doing business. Most organizations have no idea how much time and money they spend on writing. Managers, engineers, attorneys, and other highly paid workers spend up to 85 percent of their time writing. You can estimate these costs as well as the savings to be gained from plain language with this simple model:

An Executive's Reading Costs

Average executive’s  reading time for business materials: 200 words per minute
Salary of executive: $100,000 a year or $50 an hour
Reading 10-page document of 5,000 words or 25 minutes: $20.83
Cost of reading two documents a day for a year: $10,440 per reading executive

If the executive requires revisions in half of the materials, the cost increases to $15,660 per year. Multiply these costs by the number of executives in your company to determine the total reading cost.

Staff Writing Costs

Salary of writer: $60,000 a year or $30 an hour
10-page document: 40 hours or $1,200
Cost per year per writer spending 35% of time writing: $21,000

Plain-language methods can cut both writing and reading times by 25 to 50 percent.

Poor Writing and Liability

Poor writing also increases the liability and risks of your organization. In "Total Quality Business Writing" published in The Journal for Quality and Participation (1995), Michael Egan wrote:

  1. Computer manufacturer Coleco lost $35 million in a single quarter in 1983–and eventually went out of business–when customers purchased its new Adam line of computers, found the instruction manuals unreadable, and rushed to return their computers.
  2. An oil company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a new pesticide... only to discover that the formula had already been worked out five years earlier–by one of the same company's technicians. He wrote his report so poorly that no one had finished reading it.
  3. A nuclear plant supervisor ordered "ten foot long lengths" of radioactive material. Instead of getting the ten-foot lengths it needed, the plant received ten one-foot lengths, at a cost so great it was later classified.
  4. Prof. Dorothy Winsor showed "a history of miscommunication" to be one of the root causes of the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Doing business today requires writing in plain language. Poor writing results in costs you cannot afford to pay.

William H. DuBay
15903 Vincent Rd. N.W.
Poulsbo, WA 98370
Phone: 360 261 8955
Email: info@impact-information.com