Plain English Overview


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Overview of Plain English principles for writing for business purposes.

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Plain English Overview

  1. 1. Introduction to Plain Language
  2. 2. <ul><li>Why use Plain Language? </li></ul><ul><li>What is Plain Language? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Why use Plain Language? We’re all busy people and we don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to translate difficult, wordy documents. Look at the next couple of slides and figure which is easier to follow and understand.
  4. 4. <ul><li>Acceptance by the bank of payments in arrears shall not constitute a waiver of or otherwise affect any acceleration payment hereunder or other right or remedy exercisable hereunder. No failure or delay on the part of the bank in exercising, and no failure to file or otherwise perfect or enforce the Bank’s security in or with respect to any collateral, shall operate as a waiver of any right or remedy hereunder or release any of the undersigned, and the obligations of the undersigned may be extended or waived by the bank, contract or other agreement evidencing or relating to any obligation or collateral may be amended and any collateral exchanged, surrendered, or otherwise dealt with in accordance with any agreement relevant thereto, all without affecting the liability of any of the undersigned. </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>Irregular Payments </li></ul><ul><li>You can accept late payments or partial payments, even though they are marked “payment in full,” without losing any of your rights under this note. </li></ul>
  6. 6. What happens if users don’t understand your documents? You may have to: Write explanatory sections or notes Write an explanatory document
  7. 7. What is Plain Language?
  8. 8. <ul><li>A document is in plain language if users can - </li></ul><ul><li>Find what they need </li></ul><ul><li>Understand what they find </li></ul><ul><li>Use what they find to meet their </li></ul><ul><li>needs </li></ul>
  9. 9. What are the basic elements of plain language? Logical organization with the reader in mind “You” and other pronouns Active voice Short sentences or at least not long confusing ones Common, everyday words Easy-to-read design features
  10. 10. Organize for your audience Organize your information the way the audience needs or expects it.
  11. 11. Identify your audience Why does the reader need to read document? What is average user expertise? Can you write to everyone interested, not just experts? Remember that no one wants to labor to understand your document.
  12. 12. Organize to serve the reader Identify with your reader Anticipate likely questions or confusing concepts Organize document to answer questions in the order and language readers will most likely ask them Provide useful headings
  13. 13. Informative headings help the reader navigate the document Clear headings are often the best, especially in documents that readers come to with questions, such as regulations, financial matters or concepts.
  14. 14. Use pronouns Pronouns pull readers in and make it relevant to them Reader needs to do less “translation” Pronouns let you eliminate lots of words
  15. 15. <ul><li>How do you use pronouns? </li></ul><ul><li>Refer to your organization as “we” </li></ul><ul><li>Refer to the reader as “you” in the text </li></ul><ul><li>and as “I” in questions </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Without pronouns </li></ul><ul><li>To establish eligibility for a grant, an applicant must show that the applicant is an Indian and that the present housing of the applicant is substandard and inadequate. </li></ul><ul><li>( 28 words) </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>With Pronouns </li></ul><ul><li>To establish eligibility for a grant, you must show that you are an Indian and that your present housing is substandard and inadequate. </li></ul><ul><li>(23 words) </li></ul>
  18. 18. Avoid Passive Voice The person doing the action follows the verb. A form of the verb “to be” is combined with the past participle of another verb. The frog was swallowed by Fred.
  19. 19. <ul><li>Passive Voice </li></ul><ul><li>Can disguise who does what: </li></ul><ul><li>A frog was swallowed. </li></ul><ul><li>Active Voice </li></ul><ul><li>Makes it clear who does what: </li></ul><ul><li>Fred swallowed a frog. </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>The passive voice c an be awkward: </li></ul><ul><li>Consultation from respondents was obtained to determine the estimated burden. </li></ul><ul><li>The active voice is more direct: </li></ul><ul><li>We consulted with respondents to </li></ul><ul><li>determine the estimated burden. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>Passive Voice is often longer: </li></ul><ul><li>The application must be completed by the applicant and received by the financial office by June 1st. 17 words </li></ul><ul><li>Active Voice cuts down the number of words: </li></ul><ul><li>We must receive your application by June 1st. 8 words </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Use short sentences </li></ul><ul><li>Short sentences avoid confusion </li></ul><ul><li>Treat only one subject in each </li></ul><ul><li>sentence </li></ul><ul><li>Average sentence length: 20 words </li></ul><ul><li>Maximum sentence length: 40 words </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Use common words </li></ul><ul><li>Use Not </li></ul><ul><li>Use Utilize </li></ul><ul><li>Help Facilitate </li></ul><ul><li>Method Methodology </li></ul><ul><li>Needs Necessitates </li></ul><ul><li>Limits Parameters </li></ul><ul><li>Issue Promulgate </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Use “must” Instead of “shall” </li></ul><ul><li>Use “must” for obligation </li></ul><ul><li>Use “must not” for prohibitions </li></ul><ul><li>“ Shall” is ambiguous </li></ul><ul><li>“ Shall” is not a common everyday word </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>Avoid confusing words and constructions </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid: </li></ul><ul><li>Using undefined abbreviations </li></ul><ul><li>Using two different terms for the same </li></ul><ul><li>thing (such as car, vehicle, auto) </li></ul><ul><li>Using the same term for different things </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Giving a word an obscure meaning (defining “car” to include trucks) </li></ul><ul><li>Using legal or technical jargon </li></ul><ul><li>Using strings of nouns (“surface water quality protection rules”) </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>Place words carefully </li></ul><ul><li>Keep subjects and objects close to </li></ul><ul><li>their verbs </li></ul><ul><li>Put modifiers next to words they modify </li></ul><ul><li>Put exceptions and long conditions after </li></ul><ul><li>the main clause </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>Does word placement matter? </li></ul><ul><li>Yesterday a mad dog bit five men in the </li></ul><ul><li>north end. </li></ul><ul><li>Yesterday, in the north end, a mad dog bit </li></ul><ul><li>five men. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>We will send you copies of any comments we receive after the comment period closes. </li></ul><ul><li>After the comment period closes, we will send you copies of any comments we receive. </li></ul>
  30. 30. <ul><li>If you write in Plain English </li></ul><ul><li>You will: </li></ul><ul><li>Write more effectively and with more impact </li></ul><ul><li>Get better results </li></ul><ul><li>Provide better customer service </li></ul>