Editor’s note: This post is based off of a presentation that Deborah Bosley, the Owner and Principal of the The Plain Language Group and Associate Professor Emerita at UNC Charlotte, recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s flagship annual conference. Held in May 2017, the event attracted hundreds of content professionals from around the world.
Think back to the past week and all the content you consumed. Did you read anything that was so muddled that you had to reread it? Did you receive any long, rambling emails that you had to spend 10 minutes decoding? Maybe you stumbled across a big block of content that you just didn’t have the energy to get through? If you deal with content on a regular basis, then I bet at least some of this sounds familiar.
The thing is, when we engage with bad content, it actually affects us emotionally. It can confuse and frustrate us, make us feel irritated, and even tarnish our impression of the person (or brand) behind it. And of course, none of that’s good for business. Bad content can also lead to customer inaction, lost opportunities, questions and misunderstandings, legal risks, and more.
The Problem with Unclear Content
When I tell you that unclear content is bad for business, I’m not kidding. According to one study of 400 companies (each with more than 100,000 employees), they collectively spent an average of nearly $400 billion of time trying to make sense of unclear internal content. Another study showed that big enterprises lose an average of $62.4 million every year because their customer-facing content isn’t clear (resulting in more calls to customer service, among other things that can ratchet up costs).
The bottom line is that when your content is unclear, it can lead to confusion. And that’s an expensive problem. In fact, a third study revealed that employees at big companies spend huge amounts of time trying to understand communications. In fact, they estimated that it costs an average of $26,000 per worker in lost productivity every year.
Translation is another area that quickly suffers because of unclear content. If your writing isn’t clear and concise, your translation costs will skyrocket. Consider these two passages:
What we’ve wondered about of late is why companies are so open to the idea of developers getting together to hold hackathons for technical coding, but are so resistant to the idea of creative people getting together to do something similar for their content since content is similar to code in its potential to build the business.
Why the resistance to innovative content brainstorming? Coders do it.
They both convey the same information, but one does it in 54 words, while the other does it in 10 words and is much easier to follow. If you assume a translation rate of $0.25 per word, the first passage will cost you $13.50, while the second will only cost you $2.50. That may not seem like such a big deal, but the numbers quickly increase when you’re talking about lots of different languages. And if you’re translating long-form content, with tens of thousands of words, finding clearer and more concise ways of expressing ideas can save you millions of dollars in translation costs.
My general advice is to only tell your readers what they need to know, not everything you want to tell them. We’re often inclined to give readers way more information than they need. This only makes our writing cluttered and harder to understand.
The Business Case for Content Clarity
Clear content is written in plain language. When I say plain language, I mean writing and designing your content so it’s easy to understand and apply. Above all else, plain writing is clear, concise, and credible.
Oh and I’m not talking about dumbing down your content, but rather wising it up. People just don’t have the time, energy, or attention span to figure out hard-to-understand content. As content creators, you’ve got to do the heavy lifting to make sure that your content is simple to understand.
When you do, you’ll find that content clarity boosts your profits, reduces wasted employee time, enhances your brand reputation, improves your overall customer experience, and mitigates your exposure to legal risks.
To learn more, watch my full presentation.