I work at a science-based regulatory agency. It can be tough to sell plain language to people who have graduate degrees in an area that I’m not a specialist in. The fact that I’m working with government scientists can make the pitch even harder. I’ve got two types of jargon and socialization to break through.
But one of the best things about working with scientists is that they trust expertise and evidence. If you give them evidence to prove your point, they tend to listen.
That’s one reason I use Joseph Kimble’s book Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please in my work. It’s full of real-life examples of how plain language saves time and money for governments and businesses. There’s nothing like the concept of increasing compliance to get a regulator’s attention. It also has lots of examples of how audiences (even educated ones) prefer to read plain-language text. In all, Kimble summarizes 50 of these examples and studies.
When I am doing presentations on the merits of plain language, I show the book to people, saying “I’ve got a whole book full of examples, from real workplaces, of what I’m talking about.” That makes them realise I am talking about something that has evidence to back it up.
And when people come to me with reasons why they can’t write something in plain language (the lawyers say so, the boss says it has to sound more formal, we’ve always done it this way), I can show them real examples of other government agencies writing in plain language. If other agencies can do it, surely we can, too.
As an additional bonus, Kimble refutes 10 myths about plain language and describes 40 “historical highlights” in the push for plain language worldwide.
About the author:
Gael Spivak works in communications, including writing and editing, for the Government of Canada. Areas she’s worked in include food safety and food labelling, animal health, plant health, biotechnology, ethics and government, and pandemic flu. She also developed, implemented and led a plain-language project at her workplace, where she specializes in plain-language writing and editing.