Three reasons to use plain language

A lot of organisations are put off plain language because of the amount of effort it seems to require. The rounds of internal sign-off, the struggle against colleagues who aren’t aboard the plain language train need real perseverance. It’s easy to give out negative advice – you mustn’t do this, you mustn’t do that , I’ve written before about the things you need to forget to write plain language, however there are potentially massive benefits too.

To celebrate Plain English day, here are some reasons to keep your language plain and simple.

  1. Trustworthiness
    When people understand what you’re saying, they’re more inclined to trust you. Or rather, I should say that when people cannot understand what you’re saying without considerable effort, they’re less inclined to trust you. Long-winded language can look like a deliberate attempt to keep the facts from the people who need them.
  2. Saving money
    If you want your customers to do something, it’s probably in your interest that the people you want to follow them make fewer mistakes. The more mistakes they make, the more costly it is for you – your administration costs rise, your call centre has to take more calls. One knock-on affect might be that the people with genuinely complicated issues suffer from longer response times as your business or service spends more time dealing with basic enquiries. Consistently using plain language helps reduce confusion.
  3. Greater efficiency
    When you apply plain language to your processes and procedures you can see positive benefits too – it’s not just about leaflets and letters. Do people persistently fall at one particular hurdle in a form you need them to fill in? Do your customers get so far in a transaction with you, then go elsewhere before you get a chance to make a sale? The way you use language could be a significant barrier to keeping that customer. Maybe you’ve used some jargon that’s part of your internal way of working – does your customer need to see that? Or would they be better off seeing things in terms that are relevant to them? Smooth the way for them with plain language.

Keeping your audience in mind is the most important thing. Plain language at a science conference is different from plain language for a local council, but it’s always worthwhile making sure your message is tailored to the people who will want to hear it.

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Corinne Pritchard

Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and designers can and should make the world a better place. I love designing things that help people understand complex ideas.
Corinne Pritchard

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4 thoughts on “Three reasons to use plain language

  1. Quite right!

    I think the trustworthiness factor is key. I think organizations often think people trust them simply because of who they are — well, not so. There is definitely a competative advantage for those who make sure people can understand them. 

    Great post!

  2. Three great reasons. It always amazes me that organisations don't realise how much money they could save. This will usually far outweigh any costs involved in making the message clear. 

    I don't think the 'rounds of internal sign-off' are necessarily a feature of plain English. I've seen plenty of hideous documents that have been QA'd endlessly and are still impenetrable! 

    1. Oh absolutely! I do think some people fear that it will be their normal rounds of sign off (painful enough) plus some extra. Part of that is that sometimes plain language / English means different things to different people. 

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