By Tanner Call I’ve recently been the target of a clever direct mail scam. It involves convincing the potential victim that their vehicle’s warranty is about to expire and that they need to renew it soon. The letter includes “official” components such as a barcode, logo, reference number, and even a chart with a summary […]
Plain Language Blog Articles
A few weeks ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the Senate. That’s not news.
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) stated the obvious: “Here’s what everyone’s been trying to tell you today — and I say it gently — your user agreement sucks.” Senator Kennedy suggested that Mr. Zuckerberg tell his $1,200/hour lawyer to write the agreement in English, “so the average American user can understand.”
Facebook knows how to do this, at least fairly well. So why didn’t they?
A friend on Facebook recently posted, “I just got an email from Blue Cross urging me to ‘use my benefits’ because the end of the year is coming. Honestly have no idea what to make of that.” Especially since after two emergency room visits, “I have super definitely ‘used my benefits’ this year.”
Writing for health insurance customers is tough.
It’s a phrase that’s often tossed around. But how often do we use it when we should? Plain language is communication your reader can understand immediately. It requires that readers be able to find what they need, understand what they find, and then use that information for their own benefit. It’s not enough for them to understand one sentence of text; it must all work together.
When communication isn’t clear, the result is burden. In health care this burden is often borne by someone who is already carrying rocks in their pack (feeling sick, worried or exhausted). Now, in addition to missing work, paying for medications and doing what it takes to heal, energy must go to deciphering unnecessarily complex information. Common examples include care instructions, medical bills or conversations with providers (“What did the doctor say?”).
For two years, I worked as a college writing center tutor while enrolled in a graduate professional writing program. Over those two years, I studied, practiced, and helped others with clear writing. While the papers I read every day in the writing center ranged from argumentative essays, persuasive essays, and research papers, to more creative, narrative essays, they all had one thing in common: they were written for a target audiience—a professor. And from assignment conception to finished product, plain language played a significant role.