Plain (also called plain writing or plain English)

Plain Language in Government System

Introduction

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Plain language (also called plain writing or plain
English) is communication our audience can understand the first time they read
or hear it.

The “Plain Writing Act of 2010” defines
plain language as:

Writing that is clear,
concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the
subject or field and intended audience.

Language that is plain to one set of readers
may not be plain to others. Written material is in plain language if our
audience can:

Find what they need
Understand what they find
Use
what they find to meet their needs

There are many techniques that can help us to
achieve this goal. Among the most common are:

Logical organization with the
reader in mind
“You” and other pronouns
Active voice
Short sentences
Common, everyday words
Easy-to-read
design features

 

 

Why
use plain language?

We’re all busy people. We don’t want to waste
a lot of time “translating” difficult and wordy documents. Plain language
writing saves time. If we save time, we save money. Plain language is good
customer service and makes life easier for the public.

Plain language means readers understand our
documents more quickly. Readers call less often for explanations. They make
fewer errors filling out forms. They comply more accurately and quickly with
requirements. If your customers don’t understand your documents, you may have
to:

Answer phone calls
Write explanatory letters
Write an explanatory document
Litigate

Though no one knows the total cost of poor
communication, the information we do have suggests it’s high. Writing in plain
language isn’t easy, but it pays off in positive results.

Benefits

The American public deserves plain language
communication from its government. The benefits of plain language are both
tangible and intangible:

Plain language gets your
message across in the shortest time possible.
More people are able to
understand your message.
There
is less chance that your document will be misunderstood, so you spend less
time explaining it to people. And if your document gives instructions,
your readers are more likely to understand them and follow them correctly.

Many studies have shown that plain language
affects your bottom line—you can save time, personnel resources, and money. And
you will give better service to your readers

 

Examples
of Plain Language

Use Less
Water

 

·        
Before

This program promotes efficient water use in homes and
businesses throughout the country by offering a simple way to make purchasing
decisions that conserve water without sacrificing quality or product
performance.

·        
After

This program helps homeowners and businesses buy products
that use less water without sacrificing quality or performance.

 

Guidelines for writing Plain Language

Write for our
audience

Organize
the information
Choose  words carefully
Be concise
Keep it
conversational
Design for
reading
Follow web
standards
Test
our assumptions

 

Writing
GOVT Policies & Procedures in Plain Language

 

The first major push to
reform bureaucratic writing in US came in 1998 during the period of president Clinton.
His memo declared that the Federal GOVT’s 
writing must be written in Plain language. Richard Nixon wants the
Federal register, which publishes regulations and notices to be written in
layman’s terms.  Jimmy Carter ordered
that  GOVT regulations are to be easily
understood by those who are required to comply with them. But Clinton GOVT went
at plain language in a big way.

 

Around the world

Governments and
private organizations around the world support plain language. Many of these
programs have been in place for much longer than our effort here in the United
States.

·        
‘Plain Language international’ includes professionals who plan,
write, design, and create communications projects to better serve the needs of
the public, clients, customers, students, and staff. Their site provides free
plain language articles, writing tutorials, Web links, news, networking
opportunities, professional support, and an e-mail discussion group.

·        
 ‘Clarity’
is a worldwide group of lawyers and interested lay people. Its aim is the use
of good, clear language by the legal profession.

·        
Sweden has one of the oldest programs. It’s managed by the
Ministry of Justice. Even bills headed to the legislature go through plain
language editing. In fall 2004, a representative of the Ministry of Justice
spoke at the kickoff of Mexico’s new plain language program: 

·        
 The United Kingdom has
government and private sector support for plain language:

o    Plain English is mandatory
for all of the writing on GOV.UK

o    ‘The plain Language
Commision’ accredits public documents and websites with the Clear English
Standard logo and provides training in plain language.

o     The Plain English
Campaign is an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be
written in plain English

·        
In Australia, plain language has become a commercial success.
Demand for clear language has increased, and law firms that provide plain
language legal products are finding success. Two leading sources of plain
language legal expertise are cleardocs  and plainlanguage.org.

·        
The European Commission has created a guide for
writing clearly in several languages.

·        
Portugal’s government has announced a new program, SIMPLEGIS,
with the goal of simplifying its legal system and make it clearer, allowing
people and businesses have more certainty, security, and clarity in the rules
that apply to them.