You run a business. Clear communication is more than a writing style: it's a management strategy

You run a business. Clear communication is more than a writing style: it's a management strategy

On CBC Radio (Canada) recently, a woman talked about report cards, and how she finally gave up reading them because she had no idea what they meant. It got me thinking about how a business needs to use a plain language management style. Making sense to your clients saves your business time and money. It makes your clients want to build a relationship with you.

Back to the report cards. Teachers spend ages writing those things. If parents can’t understand what they mean, they probably feel foolish, frustrated, and possibly alienated. The same is true for clients who do not understand your flyers, how to place an order with you or how to fill out a form. Research says 90% of them will go somewhere else if they struggle to do business with you.

“An average business wastes as much as 40% of its managing costs because of poor communication,” says William DuBay in Working with Plain Language.

The communication DuBay is talking about is both amongst employees and management and between the business and its clients. Effective communication is clear and easy to follow in three areas: language, organization, and design.

The term for making life easy for your clients is UX – user experience. There are many online sites that explain UX and offer training in creating it. One site with a clear explanation on UX is UX Passion: “UX is about two things only – the User and the Experience. Give your users a positive experience and they will reward you with their trust and their business.”

Clear communication -- plain language -- is NOT about making your writing simple. It is about doing the job you set out to do: inviting your clients to interact with you because they can understand your language, make sense of how you organize information, and feel comfortable with your design.

A word from William DuBay on saving money: “Plain-language revision of 200 forms used by Alberta Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development saved the department a total of $3.4 million per year.”  

Another example comes from Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please by Joseph Kimble (Carolina Academic Press), a book full of examples on how clear communication works for business and supports it. This example from the book looks at the US federal regulations on using citizens-band radio.

The “After” regulations use more helpful language. As well, in the “Before” regulations, the relevant information appears in three different places. How frustrated people would be trying to find all three regulations, even though they need to follow all of them. In the “After” regulations, the numbers show that the information has been reorganized – grouped together to make it easier to find. Such a simple change and yet it makes a significant difference.


94.455 Authorized frequencies.

95.457 Policy governing the availability of frequencies.

95.437 Limitations on antenna structures.


94.407 On what channels may I operate?

95.408 How high may I put my antenna?

95.409 What equipment may I use at my CB station?

To use plain language as a management strategy, you need to find out how communications are working on two levels: within your organization – whether it is a three-person food truck or the ministry of agriculture – and between your organization and its clients and customers.

About the Author

Gwen Davies wrote 5 Keys to Building a Clear and Usable Website to curate the information online on clarity and usability. She draws on 30 plus years of work in plain language.