Why Plain Language Matters
Everywhere you turn, organizations are talking about transparency.
It’s a primary goal of most social media efforts. It’s an attempt to restore plummeting consumer trust and confidence. It’s an emphasis of the Obama administration. And it’s a concession that companies can no longer hide behind the “no comment” tactics of the past.
Many organizations fail to recognize one of the key aspects of transparency: language. Last week, for example, a CNN study found that only 4 of 13 credit card holders could find the annual percentage rate in a five-page card agreement.
Earlier this year, Siegel+Gale released findings from a study that has several implications:
- 75% of those surveyed believe complexity played major role in the financial crisis
- 84% say they are more likely to trust a company that uses jargon-free, plain English
- 63% feel that “banks, mortgage lenders and Wall Street intentionally make things complicated to hide risks or to keep people in the dark”
Across the globe, governments and advocacy groups are pushing for the adoption of plain language. (According to plainlanguage.gov, plain language is “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”)
- Rhode Island proposed a rule that would require all health insurance policies to be readable at the eighth-grade level.
- A Washington Post columnist reported on the efforts of the Center for Plain Language and other groups.
- Australia has been urged to introduce plain language laws similar to those of Sweden, Mexico and New Zealand.
- Plain language was a focus of the recent World Usability Day.
- Bank of America recently launched a campaign focused on clarity, simplicity and direct messaging.
Your organization doesn’t become transparent by simply making plain language a priority. At the same time, it should be among your communication goals. Look for a follow-up post on how to make it happen at your company.