Ever get lost in an official or legal document?

Posted on Aug 5, 2013 in Plain Language Blog Articles

In his newest column in the Legal Writing Editor (legalwritingeditor.com) Professor Joseph Kimble asks if there are any writers out there who think that the “mere style” of official and legal documents doesn’t matter much to readers. Are there any writers who think that attitudes toward style are all subjective and that no hard evidence supports the effectiveness of one style versus another? Professor Kimble’s message to those writers: you might want to think again. And read his column at legalwritingeditor.com.

Kimble calls his column “You Think Anybody Likes Legalese.” In it, he notes the 50 studies he collected, summarized, and cited in his book Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. No less than 18 of those studies involved legal documents, and the documents were of all kinds. So were the readers: they included judges, lawyers, administrators, clients, and other members of the public. Kimble says that the evidence from the studies is unmistakable and compelling. His words:

Do you think anybody likes legalese? No. Nobody. Or I should say no body — not judges or lawyers or the public at large. All those groups strongly prefer plain language and find it more effective and persuasive. Besides that, they understand it better and faster, perform more accurately when they have to deal with it, and are more likely to read it in the first place.

Kimble has one more message, for anyone who needs to make the case for plain language with a colleague, supervisor, or high-level decision-maker: get Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. The evidence Kimble summarizes — of the time and money that using plain language can save, and the many ways it improves the performance of readers — should convince even the most hardened skeptic.

Don Byrne