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

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.

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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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