Everyone knows customer letters, brochures, e-mails and management reports should be clear and concise. The results are massive savings in administration, improved productivity, better employee and customer relations and potentially more sales and business. The list of benefits is endless. But changing the communications culture in any large organization has proved most difficult, often impossible. Now organizations such as the City of Los Angeles, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Halifax Bank of Scotland and the law firm Denton Wilde Sapte are using our Writing Course, StyleWriter and our House Style service. They choose this solution because it guarantees good writing.
Running StyleWriter through business and government document consistently shows 90 percent are poorly written. Surveys of business documents redrafted into a readable style show that readers – customers, colleagues and especially the public – always want a clear message rather than business-speak or bureaucratese.
National governments, councils, multinational corporations and major industry bodies have adopted the plain English model for sound, commercial reasons — plain English saves time and money. The savings claimed for plain English are remarkable:
- The US Navy estimated plain English could save it between $250–$300 million every year.
- General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English.
- The US Department of Veterans Affairs saved $40,000 redrafting one standard letter into plain English.
- British Telecom cut customer queries by 25 percent by using plain English.
- The Royal Mail saved £500,000 in nine months by redesigning one form in plain English.
- UK businesses lose £6 billion a year because of badly written letters.
- A UK Government Plain English initiative saved £9 million in printing costs.
These savings come from organizations training key staff, employing professional writers and editors. But these people can only edit a few of the thousands of documents produced every day in large organizations. Imagine the savings if you used training and editing software to guarantee everyone used plain English in every document.
Source: Joe Kimble Writing for Dollars
So what if everyone in our organization wrote in plain English?
Unfortunately, the costs of poor communication do not appear in the balance sheet. If they did, you would do something to control them. In the following examples, the biggest cost is staff time (author’s time plus the reader’s time), multiplied by the number of employees who receive the document.
- The United Kingdom’s National Audit Office estimated the cost of producing one page in government departments varied between £3.50 ($6) to over £100 ($180).
The low figure was for a one-page letter, typed, printed and sent to 200 people resulting in a bill of £700 ($1,120).
The higher figure was for each page of a short report that goes through several authors and drafts, before a senior manager presented it to the management committee. This means the cost of such a 50-page report read by 15 senior managers was £5,000 ($9,000).
- A government department sent a two-page memo to 15,000 employees that took an average of 10 minutes to read and process. The real cost to the department was $100,000 in salaries, overheads and associated costs. The memo was about keeping staff kitchens clean. Was this really a $100,000 problem?
- A bank had a sales letter rewritten by a professional, plain English editor. The clearer, redraft brought in an extra $11 million of new business. No conventional accounting method would record the previous $11 million missed business opportunity.
- One council sent 1.3 million pages of committee reports to members in one year. If members worked a sixteen-hour day, seven-day week, reading a page every minute, they would eventually get through all the documents after 3.7 years.
Try a simple calculation –
Work out the number of sheets of paper, e-mails and faxes your organization produces in one working day. Estimate the cost of each of these documents at $10 a page. Now calculate by the number of people who have to read them and add $1 for each person reading each document. (To give you an idea of this figure, a typical office worker receives over 100 e-mails a day). That will give you rough idea of the cost of your paperwork for each day. Then multiply the figure by 240 to find out a realistic cost of paperwork in your organization every year.
Plain English will cut this bill by 30 percent.
Why are governments and major corporations adopting plain English?
Today, governments, major corporations, trade associations and professional bodies across the world have adopted plain language as the style for writing all documents.
For example, in the USA, presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Carter and Clinton have all issued directives for federal employees to write in plain language. In July 1998, President Clinton stated: “The Federal Government’s writing must be in plain language. By using plain language, we send a clear message about what the Government is doing, what it requires, and what services it offers. Plain language saves the Government and the private sector time, effort, and money.”
Writing in plain language could cut the Federal Government’s paperwork by one-third, save billions of dollars and make everyone’s life — whether working for the government or in the private sector — much simpler and easier. Ordinary Americans should be able to understand what their Government says to them without having to study the text closely or to consult an expert.
The Federal Government has worked hard to introduce clearer written communications. Many government bodies such as Education, Transportation, Internal Revenue Service, Securities Exchange Commission, and Veterans Affairs have run plain-language initiatives. For two years, the Vice-President’s office coordinated this work and encouraged all Federal employees to adopt a clearer writing style. But today, perhaps only one in fifty Federal employees uses a plain language style.
Why does plain English software guarantee success?
To guarantee everyone in an organization writes clearly, you need to change the communication culture, train staff and give them the tools to back up the training. This has proved impossible without software.
In the same way running a spelling checker on your word processor guarantees everyone writes without typing and spelling mistakes, plain English software can guarantee the benefits of clear writing.
Organizations can immediately train all staff using our Electronic
Writing Course. Each employee can then run StyleWriter through
letters, memos and reports until drafting
in plain English becomes the standard throughout the organization.
Organizations can also work with us to create an Electronic
House Style to make sure every document keeps to your
house-style rules and conventions.
|Who Edits the Editors?
John Revington from The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicator Magazine reviews StyleWriter.
|Case Study: Halifax Bank of Scotland
This major financial institution used StyleWriter, a customized house style and the Writing Course to transform the way employees wrote to customers.
|Case Study: Environmental Protection Agency
Learn how the Environmental Protection Agency is using StyleWriter software to encourage staff to write in a clear style.
|Case Study: Denton Wilde Sapte Law Firm
This progressive firm used StyleWriter to change the way its lawyers wrote, breaking the poor habits typically found in all legal drafting.
|Article: US Government adopts Plain English
Congress unanimously passes the Plain Language Act.
|Article: City of Los Angeles uses StyleWriter
Over 2,000 users use StyleWriter to improve public documents.