Plain language in action
Do we have something against foreigners who ride the Metro? Or, are we so busy trying to sound official that we’ve lost our grasp of Plain Language — saying what we mean, rather than just sounding official?
An e-mail emergency message came from ” Breaking News from Alert DC ” (a service to warn people of traffic issues in the District). The message said, “Due to DC Fire and EMS activity, L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station is closed to citizens.”
Does that means that non-citizens are free to go in and get burned up? Perhaps, it’s a way of getting all those pesky visitors out of DC. If you’re not a citizen of the District, feel free to go into the burning Metro.
Of course it doesn’t mean that. DC Metro is a terrific service, and what we believe the writer meant to say was simply, “The Metro is closed.” The lesson here is to focus on the action and the audience. Closed to whom doesn’t matter; no one but those putting out the fire, EMS and city officials would be going in, and they don’t have time to read this message. The audience for the message was the general public (citizen or not).
Stating “The Metro is closed” is simple, accurate, and makes issues of who or when irrelevant. Sometimes simple is indeed more accurate. “The Metro is closed.” is not dumbing down; it is simply all the reader needs to know.