Words by Jeff Collins

Introduction by Professor Marcus Longley, Director of WIHSC and Professor of Applied Health Policy

We end our ‘20 blogs for 20 years series’, to mark the Institute’s 20th anniversary, with a suitably iconoclastic side swipe at what may be thought to be the essence of academia – Words. Jeff Collins provocatively argues that, quite often, we need fewer of them. If we are really serious about co-production, Prudent Healthcare, and all the other topics which these blogs have illuminated, then Jeff’s refreshing honesty may be a good, practical place to start. As head of the Red Cross in Wales, and as a former head of the Probation Service here, and a former submarine commander, he knows a thing or two about bureaucratic obfuscation.. and unnecessarily long words! 

Although this marks the end of the ’20:20’ blog series, it’s not our last blog. Tune in next week for another thought-provoking snippet…


Why so many words? Think about it! You have produced a four page document and you then spend another hour reducing it to two pages only. For the purposes of this exercise everyone earns £25k [£15 per hour and 25p per minute]. So that extra hour has cost your organisation £15.

It is generally accepted that most people will take four minutes to read a full page of A4, at a cost of £1. Hence if your document is going to be read by 200 people then your extra hour has saved the organisation in terms of staff time [200 x £1 x 2pages] £400! That’s a pretty good return on £15. But, and probably more importantly, in that hour you will have refined the language, cut out the jargon, and reverted to “plain English”. The result may just be that 200 people really do read it, and maybe even understand it. Come on be honest when was the last time you attended a meeting having read and understood all the papers, and how many emails do you really read and digest. The bad news is that if this needless and convoluted use of words is prevalent at a management level then what’s the score with those who work for you?

There are no prizes for the volume of your document, so the next time you write that report take the ‘lean’ approach and reduce the word count. You never know, people may actually even read it!

By Jeff Collins 


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