Candi Harrison offers this guest post. Candi is the former Co-Chair of the US Federal Web Managers Council. She has served as a judge for the WriteMark Plain English Awards and the ClearMark Awards for the past 3 years.
I worked on U.S. Government websites for 10 years; and I learned there’s one principle that trumps all others: if you don’t communicate effectively, you can’t serve effectively. If customers come to your website and cannot understand what you offer and how to get it, they leave and never come back. They tell their friends what a rotten website you have and, by extension, how bad you must be.
How you communicate – the words you use and the ways you organize them – brands your organization as much as that little logo you use or those razzle dazzle graphics or those expensive ad campaigns. That’s why getting the words right – making them “plain” – is good business.
So how do you get the words right? You get to know your customers – how they think and how they talk. You train everyone in your organization how to write right, and you reward staff members who improve your products. You look for examples of good writing and emulate them. You watch your customers use what you’ve written, see where they stumble, and fix it. You find professionals to help you. You invest the time because it makes your product better and your customers happy.
There’s lots of help. The folks at WriteMark in New Zealand and the Center for Plain Language in the US offer great resources. Right now, WriteMark is offering a “free sample” of their services. Just send them a document or web page, and they’ll give you a mini-review. That gives you a place to start.
Check out the winners of WriteMark’s Plain Writing Awards and the US ClearMark Awards, and use them as examples. Get your staff together to look at the winners. Talk about what works and why. Then see how you can apply those lessons to your own products.
Businesses, non-profits, and governments all over the world are getting on the plain language band wagon. Why? Because it just makes sense. When your customers can find and use what they want, easily and effectively, they’re happy. Happy customers come back. They tell their friends. Plain language is good business.