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Why we don’t need plain language

Our recent blog entries about plain language have featured attacks on confusing, wordy and convoluted writing. In the interests of fairness, we’ve decided to give the opposing point of view equal time. Here’s the first of three reasons why our government as well as American businesses should continue to use gobbledygook in their communications with the public. 

Reason #1: Gobbledygook is good for the bottom line

As a consumer, don’t you hate those wordy, confusing warrantees, special clauses and disclaimers that come with the products and services you purchase? Businesses blame the regulators for the small print and mindboggling language. They claim they’re being forced to include more and more information in health insurance forms, software agreements, appliance user instructions, and so on.
 
Well, maybe. But we’re not convinced that businesses are really upset about this situation, because it’s making them money. Pages packed with small print, complicated language and endless sentences effectively deter most of us from trying too hard to understand the real meanings of all those terms and conditions. One study found that fewer than one in ten thousand consumers actually read this stuff.
 
The resulting costs to the average American household can be as high as three thousand dollars per year, mostly in the form of unjustified fees and charges. Consumers also frequently miss out on exercising rights and privileges that they’ve paid for, because they’re either unaware of them or don’t understand them. Clearly, for some businesses gobbledygook is a profit center. Burying the “gotcha’s” in oceans of incomprehensible small print may drain consumers’ wallets, but it can be great for the corporate bottom line.

Do you have a story about a particularly memorable example of gobbledygook that accompanied a product or service? Were you able to decipher it and avoid an inappropriate charge? We’d like to hear from you. And next time, we’ll share another reason why we don’t need plain language.