Plain Language Saves the VBA $4.4 Million in Staff Time
Plain language—the process of writing clear and concise English sentences that readers understand the first time they read them—saves time and money. The proof is well documented. Here are a few examples from the book Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please.
Plain Language Means Customers Make Fewer Errors
When the Canadian government rewrote a form that its citizens could fill out to request free trees, the number of errors that citizens made on the form was cut in half, from 40% on the old form to 20% on the new one. The Canadian government also requires farmers to fill out a certificate to register their livestock. When the certificate was rewritten in plain language, the compliance rate rose from 40% using the old form to 95% with the new one.
Saving the Government (and Taxpayers!) Money
The first FCC regulation written in plain language was a regulation on operating ham radios. Before the FCC issued the regulation, there were five staff members answering public calls and letters with questions about the FCC’s requirements for operating ham radios. Several months after the FCC issued the regulation in plain language, the questions had fallen off so far that all five staff members were moved to other jobs.
Every several years, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) writes a letter to all veterans asking them to update their list of beneficiaries which are stored in VBA’s files. If a veteran dies without a valid beneficiary listed, VBA staff must locate and identify one. VBA was getting a response rate of about 43% to its letter. They rewrote the letter in plain language, and the response rate rose to 65%. This saved the VBA about $4.4 million dollars in staff time.
Relationships Improve Between the Government and Its Citizens
In 2006, a team within the Arizona Department of Revenue started rewriting about 400 form letters into plain language, working to simplify, organize, shorten and make sure that they say what they are supposed to say in a way that doesn’t require an accountant’s interpretation. As of early 2008, the Department saw the following benefits:
The unclaimed property section received about 18,000 fewer phone calls in 2007 than the previous year after rewriting its letters. That has freed up more time to do other work, and the division was able to process about 30,000 more claims.
In addition, the Department’s employees feel better about their jobs, because they aren’t answering the same questions over and over. Also, surveys show customer satisfaction has gone up. A spokesperson for the office said, “We find we are getting a better response because they understand what they need to do. [Plain language] has had a very positive impact on the relationship my team has with their clients.”
- Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.
- Most dust particles in your house are made from dead skin.
- The plastic things on the end of shoelaces are called aglets.
- Betsy Ross is the only real person to ever have been the head on a Pez dispenser.
- Michael Jackson’s 1988 autobiography Moonwalk was edited by: Steven King, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin?
(Fun Facts Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Word of the Month
sophistry | SAH-fuh-stree | adjective
1: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation
“Keith saw right though the lead salesman’s sophistry as to why he should win the Salesman of the Quarter award.”
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Choose the words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
“True to her altruistic beliefs, Natalie ___ the ___ attitude of her colleague that a client represented nothing more than a source of income and an opportunity for advancing one’s professional reputation.”
(SAT Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
The phrase the third degree comes from freemasonry, where a Third-Degree or Master Mason is the highest rank. To obtain the Third Degree of Freemasonry one must submit to ritual questioning. Some sources say the questioning is long and intense, others that it is a mere formality, but whichever is true, the idea that the Masons’ testing was an ordeal became fixed in the public mind. Around the turn of the 20th century, the term the third degree began to be applied to extralegal police interrogations. From Everybody’s Magazine of November 1900: “From time to time a prisoner … claims to have had the Third Degree administered to him.”
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Answer: Natalie, an altruistic person, would “lament” the attitude of a greedy and ambitious colleague whom she would describe as “mercenary.”
Fun Facts Answer
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
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