Day 22: Oxford Guide to Plain English

By Martin Cutts

Workplace and official writing suffers from way too much unclear language, officialese and legalese. Bureaucrats use language in a way that obscures meaning and confuses the reader. Often these kinds of documents are written using language that avoids taking responsibility. So using plain English clears up a lot of this confusion.

Readers feel that not understanding an insurance policy or a product guarantee makes us stupid or ignorant. We believe that not ‘getting it’ when we read a report means we’re not part of the club at work, and asking our manager to please explain is taboo. But in truth, avoiding what Martin Cutts calls ‘verbal confusion’ by using plain language, saves time and money, avoids confusion and empowers the reader.

The Plain Language Association International (PLAIN)‘s definition of plain English: A written communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand it and use it.

The Oxford Guide to Plain English begins by describing what plain English is and how the movement is developing worldwide. There are 25 guidelines, covering:

  • style and grammar
  • preparing and planning
  • organizing the information
  • management of writing
  • plain English for specific purposes (email, instructions, the web, legal documents, and low-literacy readers)
  • layout
  • proofreading

The Oxford Guide to Plain English is an wonderful example of the craft: reader-friendly, well structured and easy to understand. It’s based on evidence and is full of examples and straightforward explanations. Read it from cover to cover or dip into it to it as you need to. It’s an absolute must for anybody who writes business reports, instructions, papers and the like.

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