Don’t think writing skills matter in your business’s operations? Think again.
Even when organizations actively implement plain language and clarity standards, they can overlook the importance of internal communications. Often, our rush to complete a task can result in messaging that is incomplete — or worse — incomprehensible.
The seemingly simple task of communicating instructions to billing staff can become complex and waste valuable time if details are not clear and complete.
Consider this example:
Please invoice ABC Industries for March 2018 the same as February with a fee for using a credit card and include a note that late payments will incur a 1.5% charge.
In response, the recipient would likely access the February 2018 invoice and attempt to construct the March 2018 invoice. However, this February invoice contains details that require discussion before they can complete the task:
- Invoice: 1000
- Terms: Net 30
- Payments: No Credit Cards
- Service Description: Editing weekly newsletter, Feb 2018, $800
What’s the problem?
Ambiguous instructions always leave room for inefficiency. Here are some problems with our example:
1. Unclear wording
In our example, the instructions don’t specify if the “fee for using a credit card” was because the client used a credit card to pay the February invoice — when billing didn’t authorize credit cards — or if “Fee for Using Credit Card” should replace “No Credit Cards” as a new payment term on the March 2018 invoice. Further, the note doesn’t include the fee amount.
2. Ambiguous contextual relationships
Without helpful punctuation or better wording, we can’t easily discern what “the same as February” means: The same invoice as February? Or, the same fee as February? By not guiding the reader accurately, these instructions remain vague.
3. Missing details
Further, it’s unclear if the March 2018 bill should be for $800 or $1,000 for two reasons:
- The 2018 calendar has five weeks in February and March.
- No punctuation exists after “Invoice,” or in 1000, to clearly indicate whether it’s an invoice number or a dollar amount.
Clearly, we need more details.
In the above situation, an experienced billing person would probably exchange multiple emails to clarify these instructions before invoicing. The larger risk is that an inexperienced billing person — or one who’s working too quickly — may make assumptions and send an invoice with errors, disrupting your client relationship.
Either way, lots of wasted time and annoyance results.
Employees in operations and billing may not think that grammar really matters to their work. But remember: Every word you craft — internally and externally — has the power to confuse or clarify, even when writing internal billing instructions. When you choose words wisely, even your operations can improve and support your company’s ability to uphold compelling clarity.