Plain Writing—a term that denotes clear and concise writing—is an approach to writing that teachers have been promoting for centuries. Cicero pointed out circa 50 BC that, “When you wish to instruct, be brief; [so] that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”
Two big benefits of Plain Writing—and its companion terms, Plain Language and Plain English—that do not get enough attention are that Plain Writing will save companies and government agencies time and money. Here is an excerpt from Clarity: Journal of the International Movement to Simplify Legal Language (Number 51, May 2004), that explains in percentages, dollars, and cents how Plain Writing can benefit organizations.
Toronto-based Praxis Adult Training and Skills Development studied the business impact of introducing plain language at the financial services company BANCO. BANCO’s online information system is used mostly by customer representatives, who complained of an information overload when trying to help their customers using the online information system:
“I get a lot of information that I can’t use or really don’t need to service a customer.”
Praxis team members evaluated BANCO’s current information system and studied end users and their supervisors. Based on their findings, they reorganized and revised five representative online documents. They recruited customer representatives to participate in the testing. Two groups of representatives participated in the study; one used the new plain language documents, the other used the original versions of the documents. Praxis observed customer representatives as they used their group’s documents to do simple and complex tasks. The Praxis team collected performance data to compare differences on groups in four areas:
- duration of tasks
- incidence of errors
- number of support phone calls to the help desk
- duration of help desk calls
The Plain Language Group scored better on all measures at a high level of significance. The test showed that shifting to plain language for BANCO’S online information system had the potential to:
- improve employee productivity by a forecasted 36.9%
- decrease employee errors by a forecasted 77.1%
- decrease the frequency of calls to the help desk by a forecasted 17.4%
- decrease the duration of calls to the help desk by a forecasted 10.5%
Praxis forecast a potential return on investment of from $3.5 million CDN (worst case scenario) to $15.2 million CDN (best case scenario) over a 3-year period. The group using plain language documents was 61.2% more satisfied with their documents than the group using the original versions of the documents. Additionally, the plain language group thought the new documents improved their ability to find, understand and use information required for their jobs: “[These documents are] very clear, easy to read. Pleasing to the eye. This would make it much easier to obtain information while the customer is on the line… These documents would definitely be an asset on the job.”
- The collarbone is the most commonly fractured bone in the human body.
- Thirty-four of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were lawyers.
- Georgetown, the upscale Washington D.C., neighborhood, is named after King George II of England, not George Washington.
- Besides bicycle and carriage tires, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company made rubber horseshoe pads when it opened for business in 1898.
- In 1992, the governor of Hawaii received a petition signed by 30,000 people asking to change the name of the island of Maui to: The Island of Doctor Moreau, Beer Island, Gilligan’s Island, Fantasy Island? (Trivia Answer: bottom of this page
Word of the Month
defenestrate | dēˈfenəˌstrāt • verb
1: remove or dismiss (someone) from a position of power or authority;
2: rare throw (someone) out of a window
“Though Keith was elected mayor by an overwhelming majority, many pundits think the city council will defenestrate him before the next election.”
Wacky & Wise Websites
Click here to discover why a q almost always appears with a u in the English language.
Click here to learn a simple trick for figuring out the day of the week for any given date.
American Express, Amgen, Census Bureau, Cisco Systems, Department of the Navy, Department of Veterans Affairs, Fluor Corporation, General Electric, The New York Public Library, Procter & Gamble, State of Utah, Supreme Court of Virginia, United Way, Food & Drug Administration, U.S. Navy SEALs
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Choose the word that best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
“Very few adults boast that no one can understand a word they say, but quite a few seem proud of _____ handwriting.”
(SAT Answer: bottom of this page)
The right side of a boat is called the starboard side because astro (from the Greek word astron, which means star) navigators used to stand out on a plank, that was on the right side of the boat, in order to get an unobstructed view of the stars. The left side was called the port side because that was the side you tied up on when in port so as not to knock off the star board.
Dr. Kevin Ryan's business-writing book is available on Amazon.com and qualifies for free shipping.
Fun Facts Answer
Gilligan’s Island, in honor of the TV show of the same name.
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