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Language-lawPaul Danon, London, England, for the  2012 virtual plain language day
“The term [sic]‘plain writing’means writing[sic] that is clear,concise, well-organized, andfollows other bestpracticesappr...
Chicago Manual of Style (1993)• “The editor will know by instinct and (sic) learn from experience how  much [substantive] ...
Cameron, Deborah (1995) Verbal       hygiene. London: Routledge• Editors said inconsistency irritated readers; Simon Jenki...
Is Plain Language Better?Comparative Readability Study ofPlain Language Court Forms, MariaMindlin, Transcend, Davis,Califo...
Is Plain Language Better? Comparative Readability        Study of Plain Language Court Forms• ”a marked and statistically ...
Problems of quality and authority•   Guides cover same concepts but not always•   Conflict (what does the reader do?)•   M...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -   Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2• The first rule of plain languag...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -   Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2• Start out by thinking about wha...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -    Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2“Singular nouns and verbs preven...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -  Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -  Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2      “Passive voice obscures who ...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -  Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2   Use passive voice when the law ...
Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 -  Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2
http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED221866.pdf                                Nov 1981
And the Winner Is: How Principles ofCognitive Science Resolve the PlainLanguage Debate, Julie A. Baker,associate professor...
And the Winner Is: How Principles of Cognitive   Science Resolve the Plain Language Debate• “While [plain language in lega...
And the Winner Is: How Principles of Cognitive    Science Resolve the Plain Language Debate• “Writers employing plain lang...
Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta, emeritus of  Leeds, Linguist-list, 10 Jan 2012 It is right for governments (and others) to make ev...
Summary• The fact that there are disputes over what plain  writing is need not mean that it doesn’t exist.• The way of est...
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Language and the Law by Paul Danon, UK

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Exploring the US 2010 Plain Language Act and other countries are exploring options. Paul Danon, UK compares guides and discusses what's out there, the need for collaboration and ethical implications.

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Language and the Law by Paul Danon, UK

  1. 1. Language-lawPaul Danon, London, England, for the 2012 virtual plain language day
  2. 2. “The term [sic]‘plain writing’means writing[sic] that is clear,concise, well-organized, andfollows other bestpracticesappropriate to thesubject or fieldand intendedaudience.”
  3. 3. Chicago Manual of Style (1993)• “The editor will know by instinct and (sic) learn from experience how much [substantive] editing to do on a particular manuscript.”• Experienced editors do not “tamper” with unusual figures of speech or idioms. Editors know when to: – change text – suggest a change – delete repetitions – point them out to authors• and they will know “many other matters” (sic).• “Since every manuscript is unique in the amount and kind of substantive editing desirable, no rules can be devised for the editor to follow.”
  4. 4. Cameron, Deborah (1995) Verbal hygiene. London: Routledge• Editors said inconsistency irritated readers; Simon Jenkins of The Times could not substantiate this• Language-historians seldom acknowledge editors’ existence• Uniformity and transparency are “products of the craft tradition [of copy-editing] itself.”• “… too many competing authorities touting different ‘standards’ might raise the suspicion that the whole enterprise was arbitrary …”• “… the conditions of the marketplace may encourage a proliferation of standards …”• Hattersley, Roy (1993) Guardian “Anyone who searches through a whole shelf of dictionaries will find virtually every possible variation on what is supposed to be standard English. … You buy your textbook and take your pick.”• “if there is a set of ‘facts of usage’, they should be the same facts regardless of who records them.”
  5. 5. Is Plain Language Better?Comparative Readability Study ofPlain Language Court Forms, MariaMindlin, Transcend, Davis,California, undatedhttp://bit.ly/zU1rEy
  6. 6. Is Plain Language Better? Comparative Readability Study of Plain Language Court Forms• ”a marked and statistically significant improvement in reader comprehension when court forms [were] treated for plain language.”• 99% confidence in results• When asked what a document was for, fewer than a quarter of respondents could discern the original version’s role while more than two thirds understood the revised one’s purpose.
  7. 7. Problems of quality and authority• Guides cover same concepts but not always• Conflict (what does the reader do?)• Microsoft Word: “liase”• Aitchison, James (2001) Cassell’s guide to written English. London: Cassell and Co
  8. 8. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2• The first rule of plain language is: write for your audience.• Make sure you know who your audience is – don’t guess or assume.• a. Identify and write for your audience. You have to grab your audience’s attention if you want to get your ideas across.
  9. 9. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2• Start out by thinking about what your audience knows about the situation now.• Organization is key. Start by stating the document’s purpose and its bottom line.• Put the most important information at the beginning.• Think through the questions your audience is likely to ask and then organize your material in the order they’d [sic] ask them.
  10. 10. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2“Singular nouns and verbs prevent confusion about whether a requirement applies toindividual users or to groups. In the following example, the user might think that eachapplicant must file applications at several offices.”
  11. 11. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2
  12. 12. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2 “Passive voice obscures who is responsible for what”
  13. 13. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2 Use passive voice when the law is the actor In a very few instances, passive voice may be appropriate. For example, when one action follows another as a matter of law, and there is no actor (besides the law itself) for the second action, a passive sentence may be the best method of expression. You might also use passive when it doesn’t matter who is doing an action. For example: If you do not pay the royalty on your mineral production, your lease will be terminated…
  14. 14. Federal Plain Language Guidelines March 2011 - Rev. 1, May 2011 http://1.usa.gov/xV12m2
  15. 15. http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED221866.pdf Nov 1981
  16. 16. And the Winner Is: How Principles ofCognitive Science Resolve the PlainLanguage Debate, Julie A. Baker,associate professor of legal writing,Suffolk University Law School,Massachusetts, 2011http://bit.ly/wB1y4Q
  17. 17. And the Winner Is: How Principles of Cognitive Science Resolve the Plain Language Debate• “While [plain language in legal writing] has gone by many names and inspired much debate, its evolution has been entirely theoretical and anecdotal; scholarly research has not offered any direct, scientific support for its use.”• “[P]roponents of plain language have based their reasoning almost exclusively on anecdotal and behavioral research.”
  18. 18. And the Winner Is: How Principles of Cognitive Science Resolve the Plain Language Debate• “Writers employing plain language plan, design, and organize their documents in an overall effort [sic] to achieve clear communication with the reader,”• “Font, color, spacing, vocabulary, grammar, and myriad other characteristics [sic] of writing greatly shape how readers comprehend material.”• fluency aids comprehension• “more fluent words”• Plain language has “straightforward sentences and simple words”
  19. 19. Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta, emeritus of Leeds, Linguist-list, 10 Jan 2012 It is right for governments (and others) to make every effort to communicate clearly with the public, but to make this a legal requirement seems to me to be a problem. Notions of plain language vary … There would be scope for mischievous prosecutions. http://bit.ly/xHz7qm
  20. 20. Summary• The fact that there are disputes over what plain writing is need not mean that it doesn’t exist.• The way of establishing the truth in virtually all other disciplines is through empirical research.• Such research exists but it seems not to have been widely used in making rules.• Until we do the definitive research on plain language, we’re wrong to define it and it’s imprudent to make it the law.

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