Greg Moriarty and Justine Cooper—Persuading clients that plain language works (PLAIN 2013)

Those of us who work with plain language have no doubts about its value, but how do we convince clients that creating plain language communications is worth the investment?

We tend to default to telling potential clients about the consequences of implementing plain language—for example, that they’ll get fewer calls from confused customers or that they’ll increase compliance. These types of arguments can be quite persuasive, but Greg Moriarty and Justine Cooper from the Plain English Foundation in Australia reminded us about other types of proof that we can add to our arsenal.

Example arguments

When putting together proposals, use case studies—preferably examples from comparable organizations. (Joe Kimble’s Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please is a good source of case studies.) Seeing concrete numbers of money and time saved can help potential clients recognize the value of plain language.

Authority arguments

Government commitments to clear communication, such as the Plain Writing Act in the U.S. or Health Canada’s Plain Language Labelling Initiative, offer authoritative reasons to adopt plain language and are hard for clients to argue with. When writing proposals, establish your own authority, supporting your arguments with research or precedent. (Karen Schriver has compiled an impressive body of research related to various facets of information design.) Finally, don’t underestimate an appeal to principle: that plain language is ethical and leads to more transparency and accountability can be a strong motivator for clients to sign on.

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Moriarty and Cooper recommend using all three types of arguments whenever you pitch plain language to a prospective client. Your primary arguments should be based on consequences: outlining the benefits of plain language, showing cause and effect and appealing to the power of possibility, is one of the most powerful ways to make your case. Support these with examples, followed by authority arguments. Consider the context and tailor your arguments to the client; the more specific you can be, the better.

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