Mike Miranda from the Clear Law Institute offered to write a post for us about communicating compliance requirements in plain language. I spend a lot of time reviewing corporate websites, and sometimes the compliance sections are the hardest (and slowest), because of the complexity of the language, and the density of the information. Plain language matters!
Over to you, Mike…
When we talk to each other we generally speak in plain language. Have you ever met someone who purposely uses terminology that unnecessarily complicates the point? If you have, you’ll quickly understand the importance of using plain language in conversation.
The same can be said for those in the legal field. Legal jargon is usually meticulously written and confusing to follow, and for good reason: when drafting a contract this practice has purpose, especially for the contractor.
But when dealing with compliance requirements the goal is to make these requirements known and simple to follow. In order for that to happen the point should be expressed clearly and plainly as to avoid any confusion and/or misconception of the intentions stated.
As a matter of fact, studies show that attorneys took twice as long to translate “legalese” as it took brain surgeons to comprehend medical jargon.
So it’s safe to say simplifying the text will save time, which saves money and improves compliance, which will translate to fewer complaints and less to resolve.
How do we define “plain language”?
It is communication that your audience will understand as soon as they read it or hear it. It will enable them to find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they found to meet their needs.
This streamlines the process of conveying information to your audience.
In a corporate setting, this would allow your company to reach its goals more quickly by eliminating any slack caused by the uninformed. The more someone understands what’s required of them the more efficient they will be.
When you’re dealing with a large company, this difference can be worth millions. For example: every few years the VBA (Veteran Benefit Administration) reaches out to all veterans and asks them to update their beneficiaries. If a veteran dies without doing so the VBA has to identify an eligible beneficiary through extensive research. Each time they do this it costs them thousands of dollars in staff time. So they decided to rewrite the letter they send to veterans in plain language.
The original outreach yielded a 43% response rate. But the response of the plain language outreach went up to 65% and the VBA saved $5 million in staff time over the course of each mailing period.
These are some things to keep in mind when preparing a compliance presentation in plain language:
- Identify and write exclusively for your audience
- If you are speaking publicly, make sure to speak clearly and audibly
- If you’re writing, keep paragraphs and sentences short and to the point. There is no need for fluff. Also, there is no need for complication of the subject via huge words
- Limit jargon, legalese, and acronyms to a minimum. If there is a way to explain yourself in simple terms, do so
- Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Who is my audience? What do they already know about the subject? What kinds of questions will they likely have? Be prepared and you’ll have a much easier time
- You should use common words. For example, instead of “prior to” say “before” and opposed to “commence” say “begin” or “start”. Keep it simple and your audience will soak up your message. This will create a common understanding, which will greatly increase the adherence to your compliance requirements.
Thomas Jefferson once said “The most valuable of all talents is never using two words where one will do.” Remember this saying, it will serve you well!
Mike Miranda is a writer and PR person for Clear Law Institute.