Research shows connection between content clarity and business credibility
The benefits of clear and easy-to-understand writing in business documentation are obvious. The easier it is to understand your documentation, the less likely you are to have technical problems, process confusion, or calls to the help desk. We also know that the best way to achieve content clarity is to avoid
- jargon and slang
- long and complex sentences, and
- dense blocks of text that are difficult to navigate.
Research on clarity and credibility
Interestingly, according to recent research, content clarity has a significant impact on business credibility.
In the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, researchers compared
- 253 scientific publications that had been retracted for fraudulent data
- with an equal number of unretracted publications, and
- 62 publications that were retracted for reasons other than fraudulent data, such as ethics violations.
The result? The papers retracted for fraudulent data had significantly higher levels of linguistic obfuscation (a less-than-clear way of saying “complicated and unclear writing”) than either of the other two types of papers.
In the Journal of Accounting and Economics, similar research showed that financial companies wrote their annual reports with varying levels of readability corresponding to their financial performance. The poorer the earnings, the more complex and difficult the writing in the report.
The conclusion of this research is that
- businesses with something to hide tend to write less clearly as they attempt to make their deception more difficult, and potentially costly, to uncover
- businesses that write their documentation using complex and unclear language, whether they have something to hide or not, can see their credibility suffer in the eyes of their customers
- unclear content and documentation can potentially raise red flags for compliance regulators who are more than ever keenly aware of these practices.
So, as we can see, clear and easy-to-understand documentation is not simply something that cuts down on calls to the help desk, but is a testament to the credibility of your business in the eyes of your customers, stockholders, and employees.
About the author
Graham Freeman has 10 years of experience in writing, editing, research, and communication and is currently a content transformation specialist at Precision Content Authoring Solutions. Graham is a key resource on the company’s large content transformation projects and the company benefits from his exceptional analytical mindset and attention to detail. Graham received his PhD in Musicology from the University of Toronto, so around the office he goes by “Doctor Graham”.
About the quote
Norman Ralph Augustine is a U.S. aerospace businessman. In 1983 he wrote Augustine’s Laws, an insightful and sometimes humorous view of modern management, from which many famous quotes are referenced.
- Markowitz, David M. and Jeffrey Hancock. (2015) “Linguistic Obfuscation in Fraudulent Science.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 0261927X15614605, first published on November 8, 2015
- Li, F (2008). “Annual report readability, current earnings, and earnings persistence.” Journal of Accounting and Economics 45, 221-247