When you receive policy documents from your bank, your car insurer, the phone company etc., do you make an effort to read them?
Though they are vital sources of critical information, few of us give them more than a cursory glance. Their bloated, often bizarre use of language is so extreme that, as the Bank of England found out after releasing an inflation report, 80% of its customer base can’t even understand it when they try.
Upon discovering this, the bank’s former deputy governor, Nemat Shafik, sprang into action. It was time to bridge the divide between presumptuous policy writers, and a customer base with significantly lower literacy levels.
How? By making economists study the works of Dr. Seuss.
We’ve discussed it before: simple writing is effective writing. And few, if any, have matched Seuss’s uncanny ability to create engaging stories with so few words.
It may sound like Shafik was calling for a dumbing down of corporate communications, but such simplicity requires skill, and a strong understanding of language.
“Most experts need to challenge themselves,” she stated at last weekend’s Hay Festival in Wales. “They must maintain quality standards and also embrace uncertainty.”
Unfortunately, not all institutions have proved so logical as the Bank of England.
Barely a week ago, the chief economist at the World Bank stepped down after his request for employees to be more concise in both internal and external communications was met with confusion and hostility.
The request came two years after a Stanford University publication coined the term ‘Bankspeak’ to describe the World Bank’s obtuse usage of semantics and grammar.
“It’s almost another language.”