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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Plain language a commercial edge? | Joh Kirby, Law Institute of Victoria

Here's the synopsis for this article, but much of Kirby's advice applies to all types of writing and professions, not just to legal writing by lawyers:
Applying plain language principles to your work as a lawyer has the potential to give you a strong commercial edge. Even without this motivation, international trends suggest that lawyers may be required to be better written communicators.
Kirby writes:
[C]lients who understand their legal situation are more likely to be able to make informed decisions about it and more likely to be satisfied with their legal advisor and the legal process generally. 
Change one key word in this question, and it refers to customers of all types of businesses:
What is the impact if, once they take the step to contact a lawyer, they can’t understand what is being written and are too intimidated by the whole process to ask?
Kirby explains briefly that key principles of plain language have been taught for decades. First published in 1927, Fowler's Modern English Usage Dictionary promoted clear, direct language, as did a well-known essay by George Orwell in 1946.

Kirby points out, though (emphasis added):
[T]he definition of plain language has developed over time to become more sophisticated, with a focus on the audience’s needs, not just simple words and clear writing.
He then goes on to explain three key factors to consider when improving communications with clients (and other customers):
  • Know your audience
  • Organise your information well
  • Write clearly.
Kirby's article describes each factor in more detail. He also lists several organizations that provide more website advice. Here they are, with links:
  • Clarity -- "a worldwide group of lawyers and others who advocate using plain language in place of legalese"
  • Plain Language Action and Information Network (aka PLAIN) -- "group of [United States] federal employees from many different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing."
  • Center for Plain Language -- a nonprofit organization in the United States that "wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable."
  • Plain Language Association International (also abbreviated as PLAIN) -- "a growing volunteer nonprofit organization of plain-language advocates, professionals, and organizations committed to plain language."
For more information, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes a seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. Steps: reader and purpose, organization, paragraphs, sentences, words, design and testing. 

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