Plain language is now law!
The new South African Consumer Protection Act makes it compulsory for companies to communicate with their clients plainly and clearly. This is what the Act says:
A notice, document or visual representation is in plain language if it is “reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class or persons for whom the notice is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services, could be expected to understand the content, significance and import of the notice, document or visual representation without undue effort, relating to context, organisation, vocabulary and illustrations.” The Consumer Protection Act
What does the Act mean for businesses?
Let’s unpack what this means for your business, and what you need to consider when communicating with your clients:
“Ordinary consumer” – look at who you’re communicating with, and make sure that you’re speaking to that person in a way that he or she understands.
“Average literacy skills” – this would clearly depend on the product or service you’re talking about, but would mean using simple and plain language that is easy to understand.
“Minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services” – assume that your audience has very little knowledge of your products or services.
“Content, import or significance of the notice” – this is particularly important if your document has instructions that you’re asking your audience to follow.
“Without undue effort” – it shouldn’t be difficult for your audience to understand your message (i.e. they shouldn’t have to try too hard).
“Relating to context, organisation, vocabulary and illustrations” – communication is not only about the words you use. Pay attention to how you lay out and illustrate your message too, as this can also help or hinder understanding.
So how should companies be communicating with their clients?
Here are a few simple ways of making sure that you are complying with the Consumer Protection Act in your communication:
- Use simple, clear language and everyday words
- Put yourself in your reader’s shoes
- Don’t assume knowledge of your products or services
- Use a glossary to explain difficult concepts or technical information
- Pay attention to the layout of your document so that it flows logically and easily from one point to another
- Make sure that any pictures you use are relevant and make sense to your audience