Reducing the Cost of Bad Writing – How Closing the Literacy Gap can Increase your ROI


As a professional whose job requires you to write business, technical, or scientific materials, you’re probably already aware of the importance of knowing your audience, but did you know that failing to speak their language could be costing your company money?

In his book, Working with Plain Language , William H. DuBay of Impact Information found that as much as 40 percent of the total costs of managing all business transactions is caused by poor communication.  As a result, businesses and organizations are losing billions of dollars every year, when all they need to do to solve the underlying problem is to close the literacy gap by using plain language. 

 “Closing the literacy gap with plain language brings down costs and satisfies clients and customers. It increases reading speed, comprehension retention, and perseverance.”  William H. Dubay, Impact Information.

Closing the literacy gap with plain language doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your writing. At its core, it means using simple language so that readers

Failing to write in plain language can affect the operation of your company, which in turn translates into lost time; lost revenue; an increase in support/customer service calls; ignored or misunderstood procedures, memos or letters; and much more.

Benefits of Closing the Gap

Proof of the benefits of writing in plain language is well documented. In fact, law professor Joe Kimble published his findings on the subject in his 1996 paper, “Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please.”

Kimble found at least 25 studies that cited the benefits of closing the literacy gap. Some of more striking examples include

  • General Electric reworking its software manual to plain language, which reduced sales calls to 125 per month and saved the company between $22,000 and $375,000 per customer.
  • FedEx revising its ground operation manual, which made it easier for users to find information and saved the company $400,000.
  • The U.S. Navy re-writing its business memos in plain language, saving officers up to $37 million in time per year. 

While companies often don't put a price tag on the amount of time their employees spend (and in some cases, waste) writing, they should. If the documents your staff writes raise more questions than they answer and if your staff spends more time revising than they do writing, they're probably working with inadequate and ineffective strategies. And consider how much time supervisors spend editing the writing of their staff. Much of this wasted time and poorly written documents can be avoided simply by using plain language.

Has your firm incorporated plain language? If so, what benefits have you discovered?