How to Effectively Communicate with an IT Provider in Plain English
Every industry has its own complexity, its own language. The IT industry is no different.
00:29 29 October 2019
Fifty years ago, there was (almost) no IT industry; now, it’s a part of every aspect of life, redefining the very ways society functions. It cannot do without developing a whole new lexicon so the IT world can speak.
Bureaucrats of today, both in private industry and the public sector, have created a jargon and “official-ese” which holds the general public and small businesses at arm’s length. Many companies, however, understand this isn’t the way to do business. IT consultants like Computers In The City do put things in everyday English, and it’s worth seeking them out. Those who inhabit the IT world need that technical jargon to communicate with each other, but plain English is needed for clients.
Two main benefits of using plain English include less writing time and shorter documents - up to 40% shorter, in fact! Other expected benefits are a better understanding of (and more easily acted upon) instructions. In short, using plain English improves business efficacy.
Get Help with Plain English
In every English-speaking country, there’s a Plain English Society, with the first established in the 1970’s in London. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires all communication to be transparent - that means easily understood - which boils down to being in plain English. In the United States of America, there’s a legal directive for the use of plain English called the Plain Writing Act of 2010. It stipulates that all government agencies use clear, plain English for the public to understand and act upon. There’s not only a requirement for government agencies to use plain English, but more importantly, plenty of support for SMEs in the UK, Australia and the US to work with plain English.
How to Meet Halfway with Your IT
When an arborist talks about the job at hand, (s)he’d talk in different terms to a colleague than to a client. When your doctor explains about the surgery you need, that explanation is minimally medical. It would be natural, though, to ask questions: to search for information elsewhere, to understand more fully. The same is done when people go abroad for holidays - they buy a phrase book and Lonely Planet guide.
A useful idea when communicating with an IT consultancy company is to document precise requirements of the job for the IT business using plain English, and ask that their reply be in equally plain English. There are plenty of tools for generating a good document in plain English. The Canadian government has a wonderful checklist for Plain English, called a plain language audit tool, which is available as a pdf. What would be useful is if the person in your company wrote out exactly what the IT job entails and then puts that document through a plain language audit tool. Once completed, pass that version on to the IT company with the checklist and suggest they, in turn, use the same tool. Some IT consultants know how to engage with their clients very well and do use plain English but meeting them halfway can be beneficial.
There will always be an element of technical language in any communication from an IT business; it’s inevitable. An understanding of some basic Information Technology Communication (ITC) terms would be useful, like a rudimentary phrasebook, can help you meet them halfway. The Our Community group, based in Australia, is a not-for-profit group which has generated a particularly helpful glossary of ITC terms. It’s free, helpful for those who need a basic understanding of a term, and covers many terms most people know like ADSL, Analogue, etc. but also terms which many non-IT people may not be familiar with, like Megahertz, Plug-ins, etc.
Whilst it’s fine to ask an IT consultancy to use plain English, there’s equal value in having an appreciation of some IT terms to help you understand. There’s also a North American company called Dataprise, which provides an online ‘Glossary of IT Terms’ that’s particularly extensive and well-worth a look.
Find an IT Team You Can Communicate with in Plain English
DRP is shorthand for Disaster Recovery Planning; abbreviations like these are part of any planning document from an external IT consultancy. It’s no different from a GP using the term Diabetes 2. Requesting information in plain English doesn’t obviate the need for some IT language to be used.
First, search for the IT consultancy which says it provides guidance in plain English - bookmark those which do. Write a document detailing the job to be undertaken, then use the free plain English tools on the internet. You can try starting with the Plain English Campaign, but the Canadian government also provides a great set of tools. Review the document to ensure that it’s: (A) easily understood, and (B) the expectation of what is to be done is clear and can easily be acted upon.
Remember, when writing in plain English, think of who the audience is. When contacting the IT company, state that the audience is generally people with an intermediate level understanding of IT. Ask for the response to your enquiry to be in plain English and provide them with the same tools you use.
Clear language doesn’t always mean the spoken word, either. Remember, people learn in different ways; aurally, visually, etc. Photos are very useful to support any written communication to an IT consultancy for clarity. If the item to be worked on makes any particular noise, then perhaps a video or audio recording would be useful. When you’re asking an IT company to work in your language, provide them with as much easily understood information as possible so they may do so.
On receiving a reply from the IT consultancy, check the meaning of any unknown terms, use the glossary mentioned above. When your IT company makes the effort to put things into plain English, which is difficult when they inhabit a world of esoteric and particular jargon, engage with their document using a glossary of IT terms. Plain language communication is a mutually beneficial process.