“Give it to me in plain English.” My children are grown now, but when they were teenagers I can still remember starting conversations with that phrase. As a parent, I wanted a straight explanation. Come to think of it, as a public citizen and consumer I welcome communications that are clear, simple and jargon-free. It appears that we all do, because in October 2010 the Plain Writing Act was signed into law. The law requires federal agencies to use plain writing in every covered document that the agency issues or substantially revises. So what does plain writing look like? Read for yourself:
“This program promotes efficient water use in homes and businesses throughout the country by offering a simple way to make purchasing decisions that conserve water without sacrificing quality or product performance.”
“This program helps homeowners and businesses buy products that use less water without sacrificing quality or performance.”
“A word may be a fine-sounding word, of an unusual length, and very imposing from its learning and novelty, and yet in the connection in which it is introduced, may be quite pointless and irrelevant.”
William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
Do you think clarity can really be legislated? The Center for Plain Language, a group that advocates for clear writing in government documents, released a scorecard this week grading agency progress towards meeting the requirements. The results were mixed, but agencies at all levels still have much work ahead of them.
Does your marketing organization deliver content in plain language? The term “plain writing” means writing that the intended audience can readily understand and use because that writing is clear, concise and well-organized. Review your content and ask yourself; does this copy resonate quickly with its intended audience? Before the Plain Writing Act, federal employees tended to write with their bosses and agency lawyers in mind, not the public. Is your content winning marketing awards and praise from your peers, but not actually growing revenue? It’s just something to consider.