Plain language laws reduce effort and save money

Regulations are documents that federal agencies develop to help people and businesses comply with federal law. The  Government Accountability Office the United States estimates that the government publishes between  2,500-4,500 federal regulations per year. Regulations are typically written in legalese. Regulations that are difficult to understand, are hard to comply with.

The private sector–and particularly small businesses–are particularly impacted by legalese. Business owners who can’t afford the time to decipher regulations themselves must hire lawyers or accountants– a significant cost they can ill afford in a difficult economy. Business owners who can’t afford help may  make mistakes as a result of  misunderstanding interpreting the complex and often ambiguous requirements. Again, both the business and the government incur additional costs because of misunderstandings and mistakes caused by legalese.

Plain language regulations could

  • Decrease the effort involved in understanding and following regulations for both people and businesses
  • Reduce compliance errors and error resolution
  • Eliminate government follow-up in the case of non-response

A concrete example showing that plain language saving money

In his book, Writing for $$, Writing to Please, Joe Kimball describes this, and may other examples, of plain language saving money:  Each year, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) sends America’s veterans a letter asking them to update their government life insurance information. Before to 1998, the request was written in “governmentese.”  VA statistics indicate that ~43% of the 32,000 responded to the letter and updated their information each year.

In 1998, the VBA re-wrote the letter in plain language. That year, 66% of  Veterans updated their insurance details, as requested. The only difference in the process was the letter. The VBA estimated that the 23% increase in response saved the agency over $4.4 million dollars worth of follow-up efforts. The VA saved millions of dollars by rewriting one letter in Plain Language.


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