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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Even Thomas Jefferson favored independence from gobbledygook

I love this--a quotation from 1821 by the author of the Declaration of Independence. In Chapter 4 of his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson advocated for use of "plain" words in writing:
[I]t would be useful . . . to reform the style of [statutes] which, from their verbosity, their endless tautologies, . . . and their multiplied efforts at certainty, by saids and aforesaids, by ors and by ands, to make them more plain, do really render them more perplexed and incomprehensible, not only to common readers, but to the lawyers themselves.
Another reason to celebrate Jefferson, his belief in democracy, the power of the people, and the July 4th birth of the United States. 

Jefferson wrote in 1821 about language in federal statutes and other government documents, as noted in this article from Legal Writer Editor.

But I think it's significant he wrote about the comprehension of "common readers," as well as lawyers. Since Jefferson believed 192 years ago that legal documents should use plain language, surely he believed that nonlegal documents also should be easy to understand. 

Unfortunately, that is still not the case in 2013 for far too many documents--legal and otherwise. 

Fortunately, important organizations are advocating for use of clear, concise writing and design in all fields--from the law and government to health care and medicine, from education to engineering, from corporations to nonprofits. 

For an annotated list of government agencies and other organizations providing advice and information on plain language, check out Other plain-language resources in Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

To find "plain" words for all types of writing, also check out Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. This free guide provides alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases:
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The article featuring Jefferson's quotation--"Plain-English Reform Transcends Ideology"--is featured today, July 2, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.


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