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Home Features The arguments against plain English (don’t stack up)
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PEOPLEDr Neil James
COMPANIESPlain English Foundation
PARTNERSPlain English Foundation
TAGS Communications, Plain English, Plain English Foundation, plain language, Dr Neil James, writing
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.
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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Dr Neil James is executive director of Plain English Foundation, which has trained more than 16,000 public sector staff in plain English and redeveloped thousands of documents and templates. Neil regularly promotes plain English and ethical communication in the media and at @drplainenglish. (© Plain English Foundation 2016. You must attribute us if you quote from this work.)
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