Good writing is in demand. According to a recent report, 73.4 per cent of employers view strong writing skills as among the top three qualities they look for in a new recruit.
It’s not hard to see why. Companies have long valued the importance of clear messaging when it comes to advertising, but they are increasingly recognising its contribution not only to the bottom line, but also to customer and employee satisfaction.
Indeed, statistics from the Hay Group show that companies with engaged employees have revenues of 2.5 times the size of those that don’t. No wonder clear communication is no longer considered a ‘nice to have’, but is now seen as critical to business success.
But can we really put a price on good writing? Plain English expert Joseph Kimble believes we can. In his study Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please, he gives the example of FedEx, who saved an estimated $400,000 a year, simply by rewriting their operations manuals so employees could find what they were looking for in 80 per cent less time.
Kimble also highlights General Electric, who dramatically reduced the amount of calls they received from customers asking software questions (by 125 calls per customer), by rewriting its manuals and saving $375,000 a year in the process.
The benefits don’t stop there. Kimble’s business case for plain English credits its impact in many areas, including streamlining procedures and paperwork, improving the clarity of training, increasing productivity and morale, reducing confusion, complaints and claims, and improving customer satisfaction and business performance.
Kimble explains: “Try to imagine the costs of poor writing in business, government and law. They are beyond imagining, and certainly beyond calculating.”
Indeed, how can we estimate the hidden cost of newsletters that only reach a fraction of the target audience, press releases that journalists ignore, websites that miss the mark, customers who are put off by the application process or legal small print?
It shouldn’t surprise us. Great communication has always been about simplicity. A quick glance at the world’s greatest communicators isn’t awash with people talking jargon.
Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King were not adverse to long speeches, but they always knew the one sentence they wanted people to take to their hearts.
By doing so, Steve Jobs opened up the previously acronym-filled world of technology to the public, while Obama, Churchill and King inspired movements that changed the world. Imagine how different life would be if these great leaders had insisted on using jargon?
Perhaps what made them special was that, while recognised as inspirational people, they possessed the rare skill of knowing what mattered to their audiences before writing for them, not for themselves.
A question of ethics
Royal Bank of Scotland’s YES Check is a great example of how clear, well-crafted writing can have an invaluable impact on a business.
Following the financial crisis, the bank was looking for a way to protect itself from the unethical decisions of the industry’s past.
They could have released a bigger book of complicated small print, rules and regulations, but the bank took a fresh approach. They simply designed a list of five ethics-based questions that, since 2013, all employees must ask themselves before making any business decision.
The results have been remarkable. YES Check is now embedded at all levels of the business and is used in every decision, from the introduction of new products to potential branch closures.
Head of Capital and Transactional Management Andrew Lewis says: “The beauty of YES Check is that it can be applied to anything. You can literally carry it around in your wallet.
“When we first came up with the idea I think people thought we were mad. It seemed counter intuitive to protect ourselves by simplifying rather than increasing our rules and restrictions.
“The beauty of YES Check is its simplicity. We spent a lot of time consulting experts and our employees to make sure the wording was right. It empowers our people to make ethical decisions confidently by simply asking themselves if their choice passes a simple five-point check.”
Join the jargon-free revolution
Jargon-free Fridays is a website with a mission. It’s challenging everyone to ditch jargon once a week in the battle for plain English. Visit http://jargonfreefridays.com/ to find out more.