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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