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The Hidden Costs of Complex Language

A workers’ compensation claims-administration firm recently required all its claims administrators to attend seminars to help them write clearly. The reason? According to the director of claims, “People don’t understand what we’re trying to say.”

Jargon, regulatory language, abbreviations — the flood of complex language was making employees’ jobs harder because they had to send multiple requests for information. Plus, the use of legalese created more reliance on attorneys, leading to more time and expense wasted on a file. As a result, the company owner made the business decision to train everyone in clear writing. Now the project continues with company form letters being rewritten in plain language.

The director of claims was equally frank about the impact of government documents: “We can’t understand them.” Her immediate concern is the new Medicare rules. According to her, nothing makes sense. They have asked their attorneys to figure out the rules to avoid legal problems. In the meantime, she says, “When we can’t understand and can’t communicate, we do nothing.” The result: all forward motion on implementing the new rules stalls.

Both as users and as receivers of complex medical claims language, this company testifies that writing so users understand is critically important.

Further reading

Members of The Association of Professional Communication Consultants recommend these guides to writing plain language documents.

  • Bailey, Jr., Edward P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing. Rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • Bailey, Jr., Edward P. & Larry Bailey. Plain English at Work: A Guide to Writing and Speaking. (1996).

  • Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). A short, to-the-point guide to writing plain British English.

  • Johns, Lee Clark. The Writing Coach. (Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning, 2004). A comprehensive guide to clear workplace writing.

  • Lauchman, Richard. Plain Style: Techniques for Simple, Concise, Emphatic Business Writing. (AMACOM, a Division of American Management Association, 1993).

  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents . Washington D.C.,1998.