Here is a list of a few plain language people, organisations and links you should know about, in a sort of alphabetical order. I will add to it from time to time and welcome any suggestions.
This worldwide group of lawyers and others who advocate using plain language in place of legalese asks writers to:
- consider the needs of the audience when drafting documents
- draft documents that are both certain in meaning and easily understood
- avoid archaic, obscure, and over-elaborate language in legal and related work.
Their website contains links to the journal they publish, simply called Clarity.
Formed in 1993 as the Plain Language Network, the Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) is a growing volunteer non-profit organization of plain-language advocates, professionals, and organizations committed to plain language.
As one of the founders of PLAIN (Canada), Cheryl Stephens’ website is also a wealth of plain language information.
The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a group of federal employees from many different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing. The website is full of tips, guidelines and interesting links.
Joe Kimble, who is both a law professor and a plain language exponent, has written a very practical article on plain language on PLAIN’s website.
PLAIN (USA)’s Federal Plain Language Guidelines, which predated the Plain Writing Act by some 15 years, have recently been revised and run to some 118 pages. Leaving nothing to chance they cover all four aspects of plain language with a particular emphasis on the writing itself.
The website also contains a useful list of simple alternatives to complex language.
* Both organisations are simply called PLAIN, I have added the country in brackets to differentiate them.
In South Africa, several Acts of government regulate the use of plain language in consumer communication. The two with the most far-reaching effect are:
- THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT
“Section 22. Right to information in plain and understandable language
(1) The producer of a notice, document or visual representation that is required, in terms of this Act or any other law, to be produced, provided or displayed to a consumer must produce, provide or display that notice, document or visual representation—
(a) in the form prescribed in terms of this Act or any other legislation, if any, for that notice, document or visual representation; or
(b) in plain language, if no form has been prescribed for that notice, document or visual representation.
(2) For the purposes of this Act, a notice, document or visual representation is in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services, could be expected to understand the content, significance, and import of the notice, document or visual representation without undue effort, having regard to—
(a) the context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the notice, document or visual representation;
(b) the organisation, form and style of the notice, document or visual representation;
(c) the vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the notice, document or visual representation; and
(d) the use of any illustrations, examples, headings, or other aids to reading and understanding”.
2. NATIONAL CREDIT ACT
Section 64. Right to information in plain and understandable language
1) The producer of a document that is required to be delivered to a consumer in terms of this Act must provide that document-
a) in the prescribed form, if any, for that document; or
b) in plain language, if no form has been prescribed for that document.
2) For the purposes of this Act, a document is in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the document is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal credit experience, could be expected to understand the content, significance, and import of the document without undue effort, having regard to-
a) the context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the document;
b) the organisation, form and style of the document;
c) the vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the text; and
d) the use of any illustrations, examples, headings, or other aids to reading and understanding.
3) The National Credit Regulator may publish guidelines for methods of assessing whether a document satisfies the requirements of subsection (1)(b).
Plainenglish.co.uk publishes Plain English magazine and contains links to a variety of plain language resources, including “Drivel Defence, a software package that will help you to check the use of Plain English!” (As exciting as that innovation may be, I don’t believe the exclamation mark is warranted. Period.)