Are We Saying More Than We Need To?


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One of Mark Twain’s famous writing tips goes as follows: “Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.” If you are tasked with writing or approving materials that involve customer communications like insurance policies, application forms, health benefits or even ad-hoc correspondence, while you may easily steer away from fluff and flowers, verbosity has an uncanny way of creeping in.

With communications that have a legacy of complexity, moving from cumbersome vocabulary to words recipients are more familiar with may seem like a time-consuming, daunting task. However, it is not as difficult as you might think. Put simply, writing in a plain language format accomplishes the following:

• Helps readers of all levels understand your information
• Avoids misunderstandings and errors that result in calls to the call center or, worse, churn
• Saves time for everyone

Start with an honest assessment

Another favorite Mark Twain writing tip is, “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.” To avoid using long explanations, look carefully where you can streamline, rewrite and redesign your document. A good place to start is with a scorecard that measures three important factors of your communication: brand integration, design and messaging. Next, check with all stakeholders of the communication to see if you missed any important attributes.

Finally, initiating a usability test with a group of trusted customers will help identify first-hand what they find confusing and where the potential is for improving your communications to meet their individual needs. Incorporating what you learn from these steps will make it easier to create uncomplicated communications that are functional, clear and relevant—and even transform complex documents into powerful marketing and retention tools.

Using plain language won’t “dumb down” or oversimplify your messages. What it will do, is improve the customer experience and show your customers that you have their interests in mind. You invest a great deal of time, money and effort to create even the smallest of customer communications. You want to make sure they are clear, concise—and understood.

Nick Romano
Nick Romano is co-founder and CEO at Prinova. He specializes in business process reengineering for enterprises migrating to new document delivery solutions. Under his direction, Prinova is helping companies achieve savings, flexibility and integrity in the document design and development process.


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