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As plain language experts, we often tell clients to use positive language. Even when explaining a negative situation, we recommend using as few negative words as possible. Many of us use this guidelines based on marketing strategies. However, we now have science to back us up.
In the late 1990s my doctor suggested I head over to the local academic medical center where a research project was underway to discover the genes associated with my autoimmune condition. That’s when I came face-to-face with my first consent form and the inevitable tradeoff patients make when presented with pages of gobbledygook punctuated by a signature line: either sacrifice understanding in the name of contributing to the greater good, or politely decline.
You’d think that people would know better by now than to use “Click here” for links. It’s not like they haven’t been told.
But I still see it on all the sites, all the time–commercial, entertainment, news, and–even considering Section 508–government sites of all kinds, federal, state, and city.
So I’m taking this opportunity to show you why it’s wrong.
A quote (as pointed out by an alert twitter user) variously attributed to Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Cicero, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Mark Twain states, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Coming across this comment again recently reminded me of the familiar complaint that plain language somehow equals “Dumbing Down.”
Plain English can be a life or death issue.
I’ve heard and read about the heartbreaking tragedy at the Disney resort in Florida, where a 2 year old was snatched from shallow water by an alligator. Better legal writing – meaning better signage – could have prevented this tragedy, and could prevent others.