In Plain Language and in Plain Sight  Around the Globe STC France Conference  April 15-16  | 2010 Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D....
Plain talk: Dirty Harry I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in a...
Here’s how the government would have written it <ul><li>&quot;I imagine that you are harboring significant uncertainty con...
Content Strategy and Plain Language Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data by Rachel Lovinger, 2007 <ul><ul><li>Make con...
Simplicity <ul><ul><li>“ Make everything as simple as  </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>possible but not simpler.” </li></ul></u...
Here’s the Agenda <ul><ul><li>What are the problems? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is plain language? </li></ul></ul><ul...
Plain language around the globe <ul><li>United States </li></ul><ul><li>European Union </li></ul><ul><li>Sweden </li></ul>...
1.  What is the global problem? <ul><ul><li>regulations and laws </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cell phone bills </li></ul></u...
2.  What is plain language? <ul><ul><li>Plain language is the use of  proven writing and designing strategies that make it...
2.  What is plain language? <ul><ul><li>Focus on audience’s needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clear purpose </li></ul></ul>...
Before Provision in fee agreement Client understands that any estimates provided be the Firm of the magnitude of the expen...
After Provision in fee agreement A firm’s estimate are just that:  estimates. Conditions outside the  firm’s control, espe...
Mortgage disclosures <ul><li>90% couldn’t identify correct  </li></ul><ul><li>amount of up-front fees </li></ul><ul><li>80...
Jury Instructions  <ul><li>40% of capital jurors wrongly believed  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>instructions required them to ask...
Homeowners and investors <ul><ul><li>63% believe intentional  </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>complexity to hide information 1 ...
3.  How do we know it works? <ul><li>Study from Notre Dame:  </li></ul><ul><li>corporations that use plain language in  sh...
Research Results <ul><li>Study from Stanford University:  71 college students evaluated  writing samples: &quot;moderately...
Research results <ul><li>Empirical studies: plain language in legal documents improved comprehension 15% to 100% </li></ul...
Before and After Example <ul><li>Before:  “NO PERSON HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED TO GIVE ANY INFORMATION OR MAKE ANY REPRESENTATIO...
Before and After Example Compensation Discussion and Analysis section of proxy statement redesigned by The Plain Language ...
Our problem in the U.S. <ul><ul><li>public is angry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>70% of Americans trust no  </li></ul></ul><...
4. Which laws and regulations  around the globe require plain language? <ul><li>CAARD:  Credit Card Accountability  Respon...
The United States <ul><li>GLB:  Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act |  Financial Privacy Notices  </li></ul><ul><li>RESPA:  Real Estate...
The United States <ul><li>Plain Writing Act of 2010 </li></ul><ul><li>If passed, will requires all  government documents t...
European Commission of the European Union European Commission staff have  to write many different types of  documents. Wha...
Communications Commissioner 2004-2009 <ul><li>Sweden’s  Margot Wallstrom </li></ul><ul><li>Improved communication: easier ...
European Commission of the European Union Community legislative acts shall be drafted clearly | simply |  precisely <ul><l...
Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU Seminar, 8 September 2010, Sweden <ul><li>Transparency | clear language  e...
Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU Seminar, 8 September 2010, Sweden <ul><li>“ Don’t get me wrong. The law is...
Communications Policy of the  Government of Canada: 1 August 2006 <ul><li>Institution's duty to inform the  public include...
Canadian Efforts in Business Sector <ul><li>March 2000 Canadian Bankers  Association:  “committed to providing  customers ...
Australia <ul><ul><li>2003 Plain English Foundation  </li></ul></ul><ul><li>formed in Sydney to improve  public communicat...
New Zealand <ul><li>Parliamentary Counsel Office  and the Law Commission </li></ul><ul><li>Local Government Act 2002  </li...
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996  Maintaining the rule of law: “ First, people must understand that  it ...
South Africa: Code of Banking Practice, 2000 <ul><li>make information available to customers  </li></ul><ul><li>about serv...
South Africa: Consumer Protection Act 2009 <ul><li>Commission will publish guidelines to  </li></ul><ul><li>determine </li...
Here’s the problem worldwide? <ul><li>“ Between the thought and  </li></ul><ul><li>the action there falls a shadow.”  </li...
International Resources Clarity: association promoting plain legal language  http://www.clarity-international.net/ Plain L...
lnternational Resources U.S. The Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org Italy: CHIARO!  http://www.fu...
International Resources Ireland: National Adult Literacy Agency  http://www.nala.ie/index.cfm/section/page/ext/pe/ Portuga...
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In plain language and in plain sight around the globe

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This presentation, given at the STC France Content Strategy Forum in 2010, describes current plain language initiatives of government and business in the U.S., the EU, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

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  • Drafters often lapse into the poor habit of addressing their provisions directly to someone other than the reader for whom the document is ostensibly written. This version, though directed to a prospective client, was more likely directed to the fee-dispute committee of the local bar.
  • According to Bryan Garner, Attorney and Author of Legal Writing in Plain English, dozens of lawyer groups have compared the two passages and said that if they were sitting on a grievance committee, they would be much less favorably disposed to the lawyer who wrote the first version.
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  • In plain language and in plain sight around the globe

    1. 1. In Plain Language and in Plain Sight Around the Globe STC France Conference April 15-16 | 2010 Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D. Associate Professor of English | UNC Charlotte Principal in The Plain Language Group [email_address] Permission needed to use any material in this presentation
    2. 2. Plain talk: Dirty Harry I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clear off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?”
    3. 3. Here’s how the government would have written it <ul><li>&quot;I imagine that you are harboring significant uncertainty concerning the precise number of times that the hammer of this particular multi-shot firearm was cocked, its cylinder was advanced, the hammer was then released at the rear of its travel, the round in the chamber was fired, and the cylinder was then advanced once again — and specifically whether the exact figure is six, or possibly only five…I myself am experiencing difficulty in quantifying the discharges with exactitude. … a result, it is appropriate that you pursue a specific and directed line of inquiry and self-examination…in view of all the facts and circumstances, and giving due weight to the relevant risk factors, is it your considered judgment that you are more likely than not to be relatively fortunate?” </li></ul><ul><li>Adapted from presentation by former SEC Chair, Christopher Cox at Center for Plain Language Symposium, 2008. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Content Strategy and Plain Language Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data by Rachel Lovinger, 2007 <ul><ul><li>Make content that’s relevant to people by choosing words and sentence structures to best meet communication goals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Voice based on understanding intentions of content creators | needs of content consumers </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Simplicity <ul><ul><li>“ Make everything as simple as </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>possible but not simpler.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ If you can’t explain it, you don’t </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>understand it.” </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. Here’s the Agenda <ul><ul><li>What are the problems? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is plain language? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How do we know it works? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Which laws | regulations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>around the globe require plain </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>language? </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Plain language around the globe <ul><li>United States </li></ul><ul><li>European Union </li></ul><ul><li>Sweden </li></ul><ul><li>Canada </li></ul><ul><li>Australia </li></ul><ul><li>New Zealand </li></ul><ul><li>South Africa </li></ul>
    8. 8. 1. What is the global problem? <ul><ul><li>regulations and laws </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cell phone bills </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>financial statements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>insurance policies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>internet | software agreements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>mortgage contracts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>credit card statements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>confusion, costly | deadly mistakes, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>inability to comply </li></ul></ul>
    9. 9. 2. What is plain language? <ul><ul><li>Plain language is the use of proven writing and designing strategies that make it easy for your intended audience to find, understand, and use information. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Plain language is used to express , not to impress. </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. 2. What is plain language? <ul><ul><li>Focus on audience’s needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clear purpose </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Proven style </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Proven design </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clear action </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Friendly and helpful </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Honest </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. Before Provision in fee agreement Client understands that any estimates provided be the Firm of the magnitude of the expenses that will be required at certain stages of any litigation asserting a cause of action are not precise, and that the kinds and amounts of expenses required are ultimately a function of many conditions over which the Firm has little or no control, particularly the extent to which the opposition files pretrial motions and engages in its own discovery requests, whether in the nature of interrogatories, depositions, requests for production, or requests for admission, or any other type of discovery allowed by the rules of procedures in the forum in which the dispute is pending. (110 words)
    12. 12. After Provision in fee agreement A firm’s estimate are just that: estimates. Conditions outside the firm’s control, especially the other side’s pretrial motions and discovery requests, may raise or lower expenses. (26 words)
    13. 13. Mortgage disclosures <ul><li>90% couldn’t identify correct </li></ul><ul><li>amount of up-front fees </li></ul><ul><li>80% could not understand why </li></ul><ul><li>stated interest rate differed from APR </li></ul><ul><li>65% did not spot substantial penalty </li></ul><ul><li>if refinanced within the first two years </li></ul><ul><li>25% could not identify settlement costs </li></ul><ul><li>“ Improving Consumer Mortgage Disclosures: An Empirical Assessment of Current and Prototype Disclosure Forms”: A Bureau of Economics Staff Report (June 2007, FTC) </li></ul>
    14. 14. Jury Instructions <ul><li>40% of capital jurors wrongly believed </li></ul><ul><ul><li>instructions required them to ask for </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>death sentence if plaintiff convicted 1 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>50% + jurors defined &quot;preponderance </li></ul><ul><li>of evidence” as &quot;slow and careful pondering of the evidence 2 </li></ul><ul><li>25% did not know meaning of &quot;burden of proof” | “impeach&quot; | &quot;admissible evidence” 3 </li></ul><ul><li>1,2 Northeastern University's Capital Jury Project </li></ul><ul><li>3 Study of Washington DC jurors </li></ul>
    15. 15. Homeowners and investors <ul><ul><li>63% believe intentional </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>complexity to hide information 1 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>75% believe complexity and lack of </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>understanding played significant </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>role in financial crisis 2 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>84% more likely to trust companies that </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>use jargon-free language 3 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>66% do not think the government does a good job of </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>communicating with the people 4 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1,2,3 Siegel and Gale: Clarion Call for Transparency, January 2009 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> 4 Siegel and Gale: Mystery of Federal Agencies, March 2010 </li></ul></ul>
    16. 16. 3. How do we know it works? <ul><li>Study from Notre Dame: </li></ul><ul><li>corporations that use plain language in shareholders communication increase money investors bring into their company. 1 </li></ul><ul><li>Study from U of Nebraska: firms with high corporate reputations use less varied, shorter, and more concrete words than low reputation firms. 2 </li></ul><ul><li>1 Loughran, T. and McDonald, W. Plain English, Working Paper, Mendoza College of Business. </li></ul><ul><li>2 Gebbart, J. and Lawrence, J. Predicting Firm Reputation Through Content Analysis of Shareholders’ Letters. </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate Reputation Review. Vol. 11, No. 4, 284-307. </li></ul>
    17. 17. Research Results <ul><li>Study from Stanford University: 71 college students evaluated writing samples: &quot;moderately complex&quot; to &quot;highly complex” </li></ul><ul><li>As complexity increased, readers’ estimation of author's intelligence declined. 1 </li></ul><ul><li>1 Oppenheimer, D. M. “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of </li></ul><ul><li>Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.” Applied Cognitive Psychology. </li></ul><ul><li>March 2006. </li></ul><ul><li>
 </li></ul>
    18. 18. Research results <ul><li>Empirical studies: plain language in legal documents improved comprehension 15% to 100% </li></ul><ul><ul><li>are faster to read </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>are more likely to to be read </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>make it easier to comply </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>strongly preferred </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>more easily understood </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>less likely to cause mistakes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cause fewer questions and fewer complaints </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can decrease likelihood of litigation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>save time and money </li></ul></ul>
    19. 19. Before and After Example <ul><li>Before: “NO PERSON HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED TO GIVE ANY INFORMATION OR MAKE ANY REPRESENTATION OTHER THAN THOSE CONTAINED OR INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE IN THIS JOINT PROXY STATEMENT/PROSPECTUS, AND, IF GIVEN OR MADE, SUCH INFORMATION OR REPRESENTATION MUST NOT BE RELIED UPON AS HAVING BEEN AUTHORIZED.” 44 words; 1 sentence; 24 th grade </li></ul><ul><li>  After: “You should rely only on the information contained in this [document] or that we have referred you to. We have not authorized anyone to provide you with any information that is different.” 32 words; 2 sentences; 11 th grade </li></ul>
    20. 20. Before and After Example Compensation Discussion and Analysis section of proxy statement redesigned by The Plain Language Group for Sempra Energy, 2009
    21. 21. Our problem in the U.S. <ul><ul><li>public is angry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>70% of Americans trust no </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>institutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>intense federal scrutiny </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>consumer skepticism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>plain language in the news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ In plain language and in plain sight” President Obama </li></ul></ul>
    22. 22. 4. Which laws and regulations around the globe require plain language? <ul><li>CAARD: Credit Card Accountability Responsibility & Disclosure Act of 2009 -- </li></ul><ul><li>“ clear and conspicuous” </li></ul><ul><li>ERISA: Employee Retirement Income Security Act -- “written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant” </li></ul><ul><li>HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act </li></ul>
    23. 23. The United States <ul><li>GLB: Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act | Financial Privacy Notices </li></ul><ul><li>RESPA: Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act </li></ul><ul><li>NAIC: National Association of Insurance Commissioners </li></ul><ul><li>Federal Rules of Evidence: Jury Instructions </li></ul><ul><li>32 states </li></ul>
    24. 24. The United States <ul><li>Plain Writing Act of 2010 </li></ul><ul><li>If passed, will requires all government documents that explain benefits or services be </li></ul><ul><li>written in plain language. </li></ul><ul><li>Passed the House 383 to 33 </li></ul>
    25. 25. European Commission of the European Union European Commission staff have to write many different types of documents. Whatever the type — legislation, a technical report, minutes, a press release or speech — a clear document will be more effective, and more easily and quickly understood. http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/clear_writing/how_to_write_clearly_en.pdf
    26. 26. Communications Commissioner 2004-2009 <ul><li>Sweden’s Margot Wallstrom </li></ul><ul><li>Improved communication: easier to read citizens’ summaries of proposed </li></ul><ul><li>legislation | include all of EU </li></ul><ul><li>2008 Citizens Summary | two pages to </li></ul><ul><li>explain clearly reports, proposals or recommendations for change in European law </li></ul><ul><li>http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/clear_writing/how_to_write_clearly_en.pdf </li></ul>
    27. 27. European Commission of the European Union Community legislative acts shall be drafted clearly | simply | precisely <ul><li>A legislative act must be drafted </li></ul><ul><ul><li>clearly: easy to understand | unambiguous </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>simply: concise, no unnecessary elements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>precisely: leaving no uncertainty for reader </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Common-sense | general principles of law </li></ul><ul><ul><li>equality of citizens before the law to be accessible | comprehensible for all </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>legal certainty to foresee how law will be applied </li></ul></ul>
    28. 28. Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU Seminar, 8 September 2010, Sweden <ul><li>Transparency | clear language essential in modern democracy for citizens to trust | participate in political life </li></ul><ul><li>Official documents should be written so even complex issues become accessible | understandable </li></ul>http://www.se2009.eu/en/meetings_news/2009/9/8 /transparency_and_clear_legal_language_in_the_eu
    29. 29. Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU Seminar, 8 September 2010, Sweden <ul><li>“ Don’t get me wrong. The law is complicated – especially at EU level. Sometimes legal texts need to be complex. But complexity doesn’t preclude clarity. Clear language benefits everyone … If people understand the law, it is easier for them to do the right thing.” </li></ul><ul><li>Beatrice Ask, Director, Sweden’s Minister of Justice </li></ul><ul><li>“ Legislative language influences official language at all levels” </li></ul><ul><li>Anne-Marie Hasselrot, Deputy Director, </li></ul><ul><li>Sweden’s Ministry of Justice </li></ul>
    30. 30. Communications Policy of the Government of Canada: 1 August 2006 <ul><li>Institution's duty to inform the public includes obligation to communicate effectively </li></ul><ul><li>Information about policies | programs | </li></ul><ul><li>services | initiatives must be clear, useful </li></ul><ul><li>relevant, objective, easy to understand </li></ul>
    31. 31. Canadian Efforts in Business Sector <ul><li>March 2000 Canadian Bankers Association: “committed to providing customers with banking information which they can easily understand and use” </li></ul><ul><li>2009 Financial Consumer Agency of Canada issued guidelines to help institutions comply with obligation to “use clear language and presentations” in communicating with customers </li></ul>
    32. 32. Australia <ul><ul><li>2003 Plain English Foundation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>formed in Sydney to improve public communication </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most success with law firms: understand | pay for plain language legal documents </li></ul></ul>
    33. 33. New Zealand <ul><li>Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Law Commission </li></ul><ul><li>Local Government Act 2002 </li></ul><ul><li>Human Rights Act 1993 Health | </li></ul><ul><li>Disability Services (Safety) Act 2001 </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 </li></ul><ul><li>Health | Safety in Employment Act 1992 </li></ul>
    34. 34. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 Maintaining the rule of law: “ First, people must understand that it is in their interests, as well as in that of the community as a whole, that they should live their lives in accordance with the rules and all the rules. Second they must know what those rules are… It is impossible to know the rules of our democracy if these rules are written in abstruse legal language.”
    35. 35. South Africa: Code of Banking Practice, 2000 <ul><li>make information available to customers </li></ul><ul><li>about services | products in plain language </li></ul><ul><li>help customers who do not understand </li></ul><ul><li>ensure all written terms | conditions are fair | clearly set out customers’ rights in plain language </li></ul><ul><li>help customers understand basic implications of products | services </li></ul><ul><li>help customers know how bank accounts works </li></ul>
    36. 36. South Africa: Consumer Protection Act 2009 <ul><li>Commission will publish guidelines to </li></ul><ul><li>determine </li></ul><ul><ul><li>if document in plain language </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>requirements for user testing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>English or Afrikaans for documents </li></ul></ul>
    37. 37. Here’s the problem worldwide? <ul><li>“ Between the thought and </li></ul><ul><li>the action there falls a shadow.” </li></ul><ul><li>T.S. Eliot </li></ul>
    38. 38. International Resources Clarity: association promoting plain legal language http://www.clarity-international.net/ Plain Language Association InterNational http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/ France: COSLA (Conseil pour la simplification du langage administratif) http://www.thematiques.modernisation.gouv.fr/ Belgium: French Community “Ecrire pour être lu” http://www2.cfwb.be/franca/publicat/pg013.htm
    39. 39. lnternational Resources U.S. The Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org Italy: CHIARO! http://www.funzionepubblica.it/chiaro/ Netherlands: BureauTaal, first plain language organisation http://www.bureautaal.nl/ Swedish Government support for plain language http://www.regeringen.se/sb/d/ 4409 Finland: Selkokieli http://yle.fi/ulkomailla/index.php?id=1332
    40. 40. International Resources Ireland: National Adult Literacy Agency http://www.nala.ie/index.cfm/section/page/ext/pe/ Portugal: Portugues Claro http://www.portuguesclaro.pt/ Germany: Team in German Parliament http://www.gfds.de/redaktionsstab-beim-deutschen-bundestag/ United Kingdom: Plain Language Commission http://www.clearest.co.uk/

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