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Plain language in practice

Improve your documents, their efficacy, and their cost, all at the same time—a case study

At Wordsmith, we focus our efforts on two major areas:

  1. On documents—Do documents work for their intended readers and purposes? This is external facing functionality.

  2. On the process to produce them—How much time, money, and effort did the organization need to invest? Was it efficient? This is internal facing functionality.

Tackling these two things as an organization really truly improves documents, their effectiveness, and saves money all at the same time. We have witnessed plenty of real-world examples. We want to share one of them:

Let’s look at an example of this philosophy in practice. Here is an excerpt from a letter OBSI sent to a consumer explaining an important limit on the complaints they are able to investigate. Imagine how this would sound if it used only internal, technical, or legal language:

In another post, we looked at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada guidance on plain language. The excerpt above does a lovely job of achieving that standard! You can see many more examples on OBSI’s website.

2. Their process works better—OBSI cut down the time it takes to produce documents
Improving documents isn’t the only important effect OBSI experienced. The amount of time it takes OBSI to generate, review, and publish reports has dropped by almost half. (Writing was historically the longest component of their investigation timeframes, and it has come way down in the last few years.) It has also empowered OBSI staff and made writing much less of a grind, which makes everyone happy!

Tackling writing problems on the process level increases the power of the whole organization to do its job—less time to produce documents means greater capacity to focus on investigations.

This is lucky because OBSI’s overall case load increased by nearly 60% since COVID began (and continues to climb) making this efficiency essential. As a consequence of their greater efficiency, they can keep up to demand and continue to offer their services with a very small staff.

We admire the investment OBSI has made in plain language and are excited to follow the rewards they continue to reap, both in their public-facing capacity and internally. It has strengthened their ability to do very important work, and increased the enthusiasm and empowerment in their staff.

Let’s continue to change the world, one document (and process) at a time!