One of the main tenets stressed in my journalism courses many moons ago was to write to an eighth-grade level -- that is, don't use language that an average eighth-grader can't understand. It's a shame that more business people don't follow this advice. It cuts down on frustration. And, as the state of Arizona is discovering, it often cuts costs and boosts efficiency as well.
The Arizona Republic reports that the state's Department of Revenue is in the midst of an initiative to make its letters to taxpayers shorter, clearer and more informative.
So far, the agency has produced new versions for about a quarter of the 400 form letters it hopes to rewrite. The results: Its unclaimed property division fielded some 11,000 fewer phone calls in 2007 and was thus able to process an additional 30,000 claims. Perhaps even more important, satisfaction levels have risen among both employees and constituents.
The agency applies the same standards to its internal communications. "Our intent is to make plain-talking part of the culture of the Department of Revenue," says its director, Gale Garriott.
While I think just about any business can benefit from using plainer language, IT is an especially obvious candidate. As I've blogged before, IT often struggles with communicating with business users in terms they can understand.
Many of us have suffered through the experience of trying to work out a support issue with an IT staffer over the phone and coming away wishing there was an "IT to English Dictionary" we could consult. Some of us end up so frustrated we try to fix our tech problems ourselves.
According to a spring 2007 survey of office workers in the UK, an amazing 9 percent of respondents say they'd dismantle their PC themselves in an effort to solve a problem rather than calling IT support. Only 30 percent of respondents routinely turn to support staff for help.
Now this isn't good. Not only can self-sufficient users end up making problems far worse, but the IT staff has less visibility into the overall network. Better that IT should follow the advice of the Center for Plain Language, a Maryland-based non-profit that helped the Arizona Department of Revenue with its initiative.
Among its goals, according to the article:
On the other side of the support issue, IT could help users handle common issues on their own by providing them with understandable documentation. This is especially important in light of the dwindling ranks of support staff. As CIO Insight reports, CIOs would like to increase their tech support teams by some 40 percent.