Plain language in business is a global move. It’s seen as a human right, given legislation, and supported by case law. Some judges have dismissed accurate contracts in favour of Joe Public in breach, saying that the onus is on businesses to make rules clear if they want them followed. This essentially ends loopholes built on complexity, with one judge calling them “deliberately misleading”.
Human-speak
Apart from good old fashioned honesty, plain language is decent. Founded on cognitive science, it addresses lower education, English as a second language, dyslexia, time pressures, and other tricky issues. Busy executives and Government Ministers alike cry out “less is more”. No-one has the energy to wade through what’s known as ‘ego-speak’ and simple words can literally halve the size of documents.
Saving money, sanity, and injuries
Research shows that plain language can save companies billions of dollars. How? Short, clear, well-structured information retains clients and helps staff fly – fewer errors, faster output.
Good websites are also strong on clear language and structure. People read differently online and loathe wordy waffle. No-one wants to stare at a screen and if we can’t find what we’re looking for we’re gone in 2 seconds – 0.3 seconds for Gen Y. Reading tedious data just to find out it was useless drives people to therapy! Helping people find what they want at a glance is a skill filled with studied techniques.
Albert Einstein said “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex – it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” He was right about the courage required. Despite major benefits and legislative support there are still die-hards battling the paradigm shift. I’ve seen that even those who want it can still resist the change that comes with it.
A 2013 Health & Safety study showed that complex H&S Guidelines were actually contributing to injuries. The information was misunderstood due to language barriers, or filed in the bin to avoid complexity-induced comas. ACC has similar statistics – complexity leads to injuries. Airlines have also highlighted the need for clarity in maintenance manuals. Who wants a safe aircraft more than pompous language? Pick me!
Brand and engage
Branded language is the cherry on top of plain language. At WriteBrand, I love transforming dry words into a desert oasis. Sprinkling content with a business demographic’s brand and personality makes it sparkle. Why market yourself as ‘people-friendly’ then fill your letters with legalese? I have great fun writing for Gen Y which has little connection to dated baffle-gab. Will they ever brand their content by, eg replacing the imperative “must” with “sooo totally”?
• “You must always enter client communication information into the system.”
• “You sooo totally have to put client convo details in the system.”
I’ve seen it, but not often. Bottom line? If you want people to engage and comply, write the way they talk. Keep it friendly and your clients and staff will love you.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” –Leonardo da Vinci.
Maryland Spencer.

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