Don’t panic! Write calmly

Readers really do feel calmer when they read plain writing. Here’s proof.

I was talking to one of the ‘choir mums’ at my son’s rehearsal. We got to the ‘…and what do you do?’ part of the conversation. I said that I made complicated writing easier to read, especially in the professional, business, and public sectors. That’s how I often reply.

New form: no panic

Like many, she said, ‘Well there’s certainly a great need for it out there. For example, a lot of forms are just awful.’

Image, Keep Calm and write plainly.
Keep Calm image by

Then she told me about her eldest son. He has an anxiety disorder. He receives a benefit from the Ministry of Social Development. To do so, he has to reapply to Work and Income every 3 months. For him, it’s an ordeal.

‘But the last time we went, someone had changed the form. It’s much more straightforward. It’s the first time that he has applied without having a panic attack.’

Commitment brings simple, effective results

I was delighted to tell her that when the Ministry created the new form — the JobSeeker application — they asked Write to join the team as content and usability consultants.

Their policy experts, advisors, managers, and designers produced a form that streamlines the application process. Language, sequence, and layout now work together.

The JobSeeker form is a key source of information. The Ministry developed the form as part of major change to the welfare system. Applicants need to know what the government now provides, and what they need to do. The form explains this with clarity.

The Ministry’s previous form was so long and complex that almost no one filled it in correctly first time round. Now only a few applicants need help, so Ministry case workers can spend time with people, not paperwork or panic.

The result reflects the Ministry’s brand values and connects with readers. The form is a great example of something complex transformed into something simple and usable that streamlines the client’s experience. The benefits are not just for the clients, such as my friend’s son. The form now works much more effectively for the Ministry’s case workers as well. Calm all round.

More about the psychology of writing

Thoughts on the cost of reckless writing

Three simple ways to ‘nudge’ organisations to improve their communication culture