Why use plain English?

Plain English saves time and money

Customers can understand plain English the first time they read it, so it saves them time – and helps them to make better informed decisions (and they will make fewer mistakes when dealing with the information). This saves organisations time and money because staff will receive fewer calls to the help-desk, have to deal with fewer incorrect forms, get a better response to letters etc.

Customers like plain English
Research shows that customers are more likely to read information that is written and displayed in plain English – because they find it faster to read and easier to deal with. It also shows that customers are more likely to trust an organisation that communicates clearly and simply.

Is there any proof that plain English saves time and money?

Yes. Joseph Kimble, an international expert in plain English, points to 50 case studies that illustrate the benefits of using plain English – for customers and organisations. He has collected them in Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please and here are some of his examples.

Case studies – Saving time and money with plain English

Kimble notes that a plain English re-write of just one high-volume form or letter, which saves staff a few minutes for each one they handle, can add up to substantial savings for an organisation.

The British government saved about £9 million by rewriting forms
During a programme in the 1980s to improve communications, the UK government improved 21,300 forms and scrapped 15,700 – with help from the UK’s Plain English Campaign. Examples of savings include:

  • A Customs and Excise form where the error rate was reduced from 55% to 3% – saving £33,000 a year in staff time
  • A Department of the Environment form on ‘Right to buy’ had an error rate of 60%. The plain English version had an error rate of under 5%

The Royal Mail in the UK saved £500,000 in 9 months
An unclear ‘Redirection of mail’ form had an error rate of 87% and cost the Royal Mail over £10,000 a week in dealing with complaints and reprocessing incorrect forms. After it was rewritten, the error rate dropped significantly – and the Royal Mail saved a huge amount of staff time.

The US Veterans’ Benefits Administration saved $4 million
The response rate to a letter requesting US veterans to update details on a form increased to 65% from 43%  after it was re-written in plain English. It was calculated that staff saved 20 minutes per veteran, by receiving this information in the required form. Because this letter was sent to 320,000 veterans, the increased response rate resulted in savings of over $4 million.

New forms in Canada saved millions
During a plain English programme in Alberta’s Department of Agriculture, they revised 92 forms which were sent out to more than one million people each year. It is estimated that each new form saved staff at least 10 minutes in processing time – adding up to Canadian $3.5 million a year.

A simplified billing form increased customer payments by 80%
In the US, the Cleveland Clinic simplified a billing statement, using clear language and a logical structure. It recovered an additional $1million a month in the following few months.

Rewriting a software manual saved up to $375,000 a year, per customer
The General Electric Company estimated that businesses using a revised manual made 125 fewer calls to its helpline per month – saving it from $22,500 to $375,000 a year, per business customer.

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All case studies are taken from Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please – The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government and Law by Joseph Kimble (Carolina Academic Press)