The arguments against plain English (don’t stack up)

Change is hard. And plain English reform seems harder than most. To help us tackle the task, it’s worth reviewing the reasons people offer for retaining a traditional style.

While the benefits of plain English are now well established, staff can resist even if their agency endorses writing reform. Here are some of the most common arguments and how they stack up.

But that’s the ‘technical’ term

Let’s start with an assumption many of us absorbed at school and university: that complex wording will always carry more meaning. More meaning for whom? Will your audience understand the nuances you have in mind, and do they actually need them?

Too often, agencies indulge in what linguist Geoffrey Pullum calls nerdview, an insider perspective that gets in the way of clear communication. We hear this every time we travel, as announcers invite us to “alight” from a train or “disembark” an aircraft. Why not just “step off” or “leave”? A complex term is not always necessary or effective.

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