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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Around the world in plain words | Marie Clair, New Europe

Many organisations still see the use of plain language as a 'nice to do' rather than a necessity. It shouldn't be necessary to enforce the use of plain language in public information, but it seems that is the final resort.
Marie Clair, of the private British firm, the Plain English Campaign, writes those words with dismay near the start of this column. She's concerned--as she should be--about the clarity to the public of language used in government documents (in her country but also in countries from Europe to the United States).

But improving public documents has finally come to this:
The power and much of the responsibility for the solution rests with those at the root of the problem – Parliament, Government offices and regulatory bodies. Some have finally shouldered this duty. We now have successful Acts and Bills passed in a variety of countries making unnecessary jargon, legalese and gobbledygook illegal in public information.
The United States has enacted such legislation--affecting documents produced by the federal government. Some state and local governments have also adopted guidelines (mostly) for using of plain language.

Much of the rest of Clair's column is about what her firm has done to promote use of plain language, especially during the formation years of the European Union. But, unfortunately, their work with the EU hasn't been entirely successful.

Claire refers to this statement in a 2010 EU document:
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on its behalf is responsible for any use which might be made of the information contained in Languages and translation. This is not an official publication and neither the Commission nor any of its services are bound in any way by its contents.
The consequences to communication of that cop-out by the EU is one reason Claire believes "every legislative body worldwide" must enact laws requiring use of plain language in public documents. She concludes:
Plain language allows us the best chance to understand and deal responsibly with information after a single reading. Plain language is a democratic right of every person, and it is the responsibility of every person to communicate clearly.
Besides adding the emphasis above, I can't say it any better!

If you want more information on using plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide and Garbl's Plain Language Resources.

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