Is simpler language the solution for understanding each other better in our complex and hurried times?
The Plain Language movement, which in the USA took root in the 1990s, is spreading. Plain language would certainly make the ‘red tape’ of daily life more manageable. Simpler language then is promoted by educators, citizen groups and in some cases law makers in other language groups, worldwide.
Why not! It holds that people should be able to read AND understand written materials. It is especially critical to clearly understand medical and legal reports. It’s not limited to that of course. A simple household bill could also be written in a completely complex way.
Tips on writing techniques to help anyone deliver a clear and understood message to readers, are:
- Logical organization with the reader in mind
- “You” and other pronouns
- Active voice
- Short sentences
- Common, everyday words
- Easy-to-read design features
(These and more tips can be found at http://www.plainlanguage.gov )
Plain language gets the message across a divide that may include challenges such as memory or lack of technical or motor skills. Multi language or mixed culture situations can slow down anyone who must find their way through systems, forms, rules, regulations and complex language, in an essentially alien arena.
Even the sophisticated and savvy surely spot and also tire of gobbledygook and political doublespeak, “uplain” language at its other edge of the spectrum.
There are more than a million words in the English language. This offers diversity. It offers precision. It’s a playground!
Medical, legal, scientific and technical communities surely have their jargon for a reason?
Don’t they? There is, however, a danger in not communicating clearly to clients and end users.
There is less money in it too. Obfuscation and complexity are no longer tolerated by consumers as a smokescreen to justify higher rates to get us out of messes.
I shall play with those who can and those whose quills are poised artfully over quires of paper, puzzling over phrases.
We are all well advised, however, to remember that the general population does not live and breathe the same words that specific occupations use to describe ‘things.”
The movement is not limited to the English language. People are petitioning governments, businesses, lawyers, and insurance companies in particular to communicate in a way that matches the needs of its readers and customers.
Here is an impassioned presentation on the case for plain language. The speaker is Sandra Fisher Martins How sharp is your simpler language in Portuguese skill? Check it out here.
TED TALKS summary on the presenter:
Medical, legal, and financial documents should be easy to read, but too often they aren’t. With spot-on (and funny) examples, Sandra Fisher Martins shows how overly complex language separates us from the information we need — and three steps to change that. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Sandra Fisher-Martins fights “information apartheid” — the barrier created by overly complex language.