Getting an organization to start using plain language shouldn’t be all that hard, should it?
Simply get the folks at the top to buy-in, train all the writers, and after a bit of learning curve, all new and revised documents should start to be clear and concise.
Well, maybe not.
Seems one critical piece is missing in that rosy scenario – the reviewers.
Author – Steven Pinker
[Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal with the author's permission]
Why is so much writing so bad? Why is it so hard to understand a government form, or an academic article or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?
The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy.
I’ve visited Washington D.C. several times in my life, but my most recent trip felt the most rewarding. As an intern for the Center for Plain Language, I’ve learned quite a bit about what plain language is, and why it’s important. The Center has been fighting for plain language in our government for years, an effort that culminated in the passing of the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Now, the Center is supporting a bill that Representative Braley introduced to the House of Representatives, the Plain Regulations Act of 2013.
I’ve been a journalist and a writing instructor all my career, so I’m familiar with the need to write clearly. But I didn’t hear about Plain Language as a movement until early last year, when I began working as a technical writer for the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, an agency that provides services for people who have disabilities. Shortly after starting my job, I took a class in plain language offered by our Center for Learning Management. That was the first time I realized that clear writing is a political issue…
The assignment was simple in theory–choose one of the article options given to us by our professor, apply the method of plain language to it, and create a clear and concise piece explaining the message. Each of the text options ranged from 8-10 pages and were so laden with filler sentences and convoluted language just reading the intro was a headache.