The rule for simplicity is neatly espoused by Joseph Pulitzer:
Put it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light
As a lawyer and maths graduate, I learnt a great deal about accuracy and clarity, as both subjects are founded on these attributes. Lawyers are not, on the other hand, known for their brevity – possibly because we were once paid by the inch! Indeed, many lawyers are so entrenched in trying to make their contracts watertight and ensure the court’s interpet them literally, that they follow the motto “why use one word when three will do?”
You don’t need to be a lawyer to over-complicate your message. Anyone can do it!
But once we have contracts that are accurate, brief and clear how will it help? That ABC leads to an ABC of results:
- action: when your contract users understands the next steps you want her to take, she’s more likely to do so; the clearer your writing, the quicker a contract user can understand and act upon what she’s read.
- boldness: clear contracts build trust, and help contract users believe in the project and what is needed to achieve its objectives; a bold message is easily grasped.
- confidence: clear contracts inspire confidence as there are no misunderstandings and less frustration with the content – clear writing is evidence of clear thinking.
Simple contracts are just as effective as they focus on what really matters to the users, not some esoteric legal point. Badly-written contracts lead to increased negotiation time, poor administration, as well as loss of trust between the parties and – at worst – claims or disputes.
What should you do?