Benefits of plain language

Plain language makes a difference!

In a plain language document, people find information faster, understand it more accurately, and are more satisfied with it.

In a study comparing original and plain language regulations from the Federal Communications Commission, both people who had experience with the old regulation and people who did not have that experience did much better with the plain language version:

Found information faster
Measured as minutes per problem
Type of user Old Rules New Rules
Experienced 2.43 1.50
Inexperienced 3.51 1.73
Answered more questions correctly
Measured as number of quesitons answered correctly (out of 20)
Type of user Old Rules New Rules
Experienced 12.78 16.45
Inexperienced 8.54 17.26
Rated the new rules as much easier to use
Measured on a scale of 1–5 (where 1 = Easy and 5 = Hard)
Type of user Old Rules New Rules
Experienced 4.22 1.77
Inexperienced 4.57 2.00

Study conducted by the American Institutes for Research and reported in Redish, Felker, and Rose, Evaluating the effects of document design principles, Information Design Journal, 4(2, 3), 1981, 236-243.

Plain language reduces costs.

When the Federal Communications Commission rewrote the rules for CB radios in the late 1970s, phone calls about requirements dropped by more than 90%.

When one office of the Veterans Benefits Administration rewrote a standard letter that they send to veterans, phone calls dropped from an average of 1.5 calls for each letter sent to .27 calls.

Work done by Reva Daniel with the Jackson, Mississippi, VBA office and reported in Daniel, Revising letters to veterans, Technical Communication, 42(1), 1995, 69-75.

When people understand more, they call less often. That saves agencies time and money. Workers can spend more time helping customers in other ways.

In 2006, the Arizona Department of Revenue rewrote many of its standard letters into plain language. Phone calls went down so much in 2007 that workers were able to process about 30,000 more claims for unclaimed property than they had in the previous year.

See Crawford, State targets bureaucratese to improve communication (PDF), The Arizona Republic, January 6, 2008.

Plain language can bring in more money.

In the early 2000s, the Washington State Department of Revenue rewrote a notice to business owners reminding them that they might owe “use tax” ‚Äì tax on goods they bought out of state or through the internet. The original notice was ignored by 97% of the people who got it. But people paid attention to the plain language version, and the state exceeded its goal for use tax payments by more than $800,000.

See Wash. state sees results from ‘plain talk’ initiative, USA Today, December 10, 2006.

Center for Plain Language (

Printed April 17, 2014


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