Estimated Burden?

I was filling out a government form last week and noticed on the upper right hand corner there was a line that said “Estimated Burden: 85 Minutes.” Needless to say, this isn’t the best verbiage for posting how long a form will take to process at some government office somewhere in Virginia or Maryland.

Think about the alternatives the government could have placed that would make the line a little bit less confrontational:

  • EB: 85
  • B85
  • 85
  • Estimated Processing Time: 85 minutes
  • Estimated Processing: 85 minutes
  • Estimated Completion Time: 85 Minutes

That is just six examples from what is certainly an unlimited number of possibilities. Burden is not a positive word and there are so many ways to hide the true meaning on the form. Anyone trained to fill out the forms could probably figure out what EB means, but for the 99% of people who aren’t familiar with the acronym, EB:85 will mean nothing.  The government can even put just 85 or B85, both of which would give the processor the information he or she needs without having a negative tone towards the customer (the person filling out the form).

Even though these types of things are super simple to fix, you can’t seem to get away from them. Some organizations simply don’t understand that a simple change in wording can make a difference and convey a totally different (and much more positive) tone. The ones that do, though, are the ones that will likely have happier customers. (Assume, of course, that similar verbiage mistakes are made across organizations that don’t think about it and not just in one place.)

3 Responses to “Estimated Burden?”

  1. Lisa Fields said:

    Mar 13, 09 at 5:45 pm

    I think we would agree that telling the truth is the foundation of remarkable customer service. So Estimated Burden is indeed the truth when filling out a goverment form. While I work with a number of government agencies they would be the first to admit they do have lots of forms to fill out and they are the “Kings” and “Queens” of paperwork.

    A burden is just that, it’s a load. Ever heard someone exclaim with delight “Oh, joy oh rapture, I get to fill out paperwork!”

    I find the term very transparent and actually “straight up.”

    So… what do I know?
    As Flip Wilson said “Different Strokes for Differnt Folks.”

    Hey great Blog- Congrats.



  2. Matt B said:

    May 09, 09 at 7:56 pm

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the party, but I just found this blog after seeing the same cryptic message on a form I was filling out. After a quick google search that provided me with this update:

    From what I can gather from that, it seems that the burden isn’t on Uncle Sam’s side, but in fact on our poor souls. In an attempt to provide us ‘mericans with more time to eat, drink, and be merry, our good Uncle keeps track of the average amount of time the average person spends filling out Federal paperwork every year. I have yet to find something that says whether this tracking just creates more “burden” for some government employees or actually reduces our time filling out forms.

  3. Service Untitled said:

    May 14, 09 at 9:51 pm


    Thanks for researching that! Very interesting indeed. 🙂