“We don’t want our clients to think we’re dummies.” When I encourage my clients to use plain English, they sometimes push back. They’re afraid they’ll seem stupid.
I disagree. I think plain, clear writing shows respect for your client’s time. I’m not alone in my belief. Folks like investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway and former SEC chair Arthur Levitt agree with me. So does The Wall Street Journal.
Warren Buffett on plain English
Here’s what Warren Buffett says:
When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters…. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.
Despite Buffett’s easy-to-understand style, plenty of financial sophisticates read his firm’s annual report.
By the way, Buffett’s quote comes from the SEC’s A Plain English Handbook, a great free resource.
Arthur Levitt on financial disclosures and language
Here’s former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt’s take on plain English:
For the language of financial disclosure, we need to raise the standard from “potentially understandable” to “impossible to be misunderstood.”
Take a few minutes to see if your writing passes “The Levitt test for financial risk disclosures.”
The Wall Street Journal
Almost every financial sophisticate in the U.S. reads The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper does a good job of making their content accessible to the less sophisticated. For some examples, see “Let’s get parenthetical.”
What about YOU?
What do YOU think about using plain English in your financial communications? What is one step you recommend to others who’d like to use plain English?
For more on plain English, see “Plain English and good writing.”
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