Using plain English

I have lots of conversations with people at work about using plain English. It seems as though everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but people are less sure how to go about it, and even more importantly, how to get other people to use plain English instead of ‘government speak’. I work in a government organisation, so we see plenty of examples of long wordy documents filled with jargon and buzzwords.

It’s worthwhile thinking about why people don’t use plain English. Apart from people wanting to hide their true purpose, many people think that they need to write in a stuffy convoluted way in order to sound ‘professional’. This is far from true. Being professional is about being clear and writing clearly can be hard work.

As Woody Guthrie said… “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make something simple.”

So next time you start writing something, think about how you make yourself as clear as possible. If you’re writing an important document or email, get someone else to read it before you send it. Be open to feedback about how you can improve your writing and practice as much as you can.

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2 thoughts on “Using plain English

  1. Hah! A subject dear to my heart… something I have spent many years trying to learn and practice (in short, to leave behind the academic training of a university English degree!). I completely agree that jargon is a way of hiding one’s self in language and text. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks for sharing your link and following it up through the gravatar as this made it easy to stop in and visit your site. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree that writing in plain English is hard and takes courage. One of the things I see at work is people trying too hard to be impressive. Writing clearly means that you have nowhere to hide and I think this scares people a little, but the upside is that people can respond in a genuine way because there is less fluff between you. It seems more honest to me.

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