Why you need to be trustworthy when writing plainly

Just because something’s clear doesn’t mean it’s true, but you’re more likely to believe it anyway.

At Clarity2016, plain English consultant Caitlin Whiteman said that consumers need plain language. We need information that’s easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to follow. Information helps us to influence industry and government and to make decisions that benefit us and our families.

Image, packets of biscuits on supermarket shelf.

It’s one thing to face a dazzling array of choice in the biscuit aisle, says Caitlin, but it’s much more consequential when you’re in the market for a complex financial product or a home loan. Image by jenny cu / CC BY

But humans use mental shortcuts to make decisions quickly, and that can be a trap for the unwary. We don’t just read a document, we also take in other information about whether the document is reliable. Does it come from a source we trust? Does it tell us something we’re predisposed to believe? Is it easy to read?

People will judge the document as more positive than it might truly be, because of their experience of easy reading.

Caitlin Whiteman

The message I took away from this presentation is that those of us who write in plain language need to be highly ethical. By writing clearly, we’re encouraging others to trust us. We need, therefore, to be trustworthy.

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