Plain language – it’s the only way

May 2016

Olefile Moea, Executive Director, Fairheads Benefit Services

Let’s face it, the financial services industry is complex, not least the terminology. Those working in the industry get caught up in the jargon and often assume that clients or members will understand.

Often they don’t and that is why plain language is highlighted as one of the main points in the ‘Treating Customers Fairly’ (TCF) legislation. In other words, it is now legally required for companies and administrators to communicate in language that is clear and accessible, in order to protect consumers and ensure fairness.

In South Africa, plain language is challenged yet further by our multilingual society and the need sometimes to provide written documents in multiple languages.

What is plain language?

Plain language (in whatever language you are using) is communication where there is no confusion about meaning. It is free of cliché and unnecessary jargon and is presented in a way that builds understanding. Imagine you are talking to a client and write accordingly.

In practice this means writing should have:

• An easy-to-read style
• Accessible content
• Short sentences
• Not too many adjectives
• Good grammar

Avoid legalese and language that is too formal. Best practice is also to avoid overuse of capital letters.

Consider the subtle yet powerful differences below:

Distribution → payment
We advise → we inform
Be advised → please note
Request → ask
In respect of → for/in
Furthermore, we require → We also need
Due to → as
Thereof, thereto, wherein → avoid!

Before
Correspondence dated 29 July 2015 was sent to you, wherein we advised that a monthly distribution of R800.00 will be made upon receipt of your banking details. We enclose herewith a copy of our correspondence previously forwarded to you, for your ease of reference.

After
We wrote to you on 29 July 2015 to let you know that an amount of R800 will be paid to you each month as soon as you send us your banking details. We enclose a copy of that letter for your information.

Before
Please note due to your remaining share of the Trust being minimal, it may not be sufficient to cover the full costs of the Degree/Diploma/Course.

After
Please note that as your remaining share of the trust is small, it may not be enough to cover the full costs of the degree/diploma/course.

Let’s keep it simple!