Wednesday, 29 October 2014


What do you think "THIS" is? 

"For the purposes of this Act, [THIS] shall be defined as the artificial structure designed to store water for recreation, sports, therapeutic purposes or regular bathing.  It also includes water tanks, related facilities, such as changing rooms, toilets, sinks, showers, diving boards, starting platforms, engine rooms, secondary facilities and integral spaces."

If you are still wondering, I'll put you out of your misery. It's just a swimming pool

Of course, this definition comes from the Colombian Department of Health's guidelines for public safety.  They could have saved some time and used a Spanish dictionary : "..a pool used for bathing, swimming, water sports or other exercises.". 

However, it does raise a wider question.  Why don't we use plain language to describe and define simple ideas?   Don't get me wrong, technical vocabulary has its place. It's absolutely fine to use medical terms if you are addressing medics.  

If however, you are writing for the general public, then you will get a better reaction if they understand what you are saying.  Sounds almost too obvious, doesn't it? 

As an accountant, I have constantly dealt with technical vocabulary. Finance gets a bad press, and rightly so, as a recent survey pointed out :

One startling fact: 81% of the British public believe that financial institutions fail to communicate clearly. That leads to problems when making decisions about money.

In our lives, we have to read finance documents such as credit card agreements, loan applications and bank statements. Sure, we can improve our own finance knowledge, but it would help us a lot if the finance industry made life simpler. 

We can only point to complex mortgage agreements.  They were partly blamed for causing the credit crisis, since home owners could not understand what they were signing. 

How do you write in Plain language?

Here are a couple of simple tips from the Campaign for Plain English :

- Keep your sentences short (15-20 words at most)

- Use active verbs (“you pay ...” instead of “this will be charged for a fee of...”) 

Don’t forget the benefits too:

- Clear communication helps readers understand, make better decisions and actually saves your organisation money. 

- It is easier to translate into a foreign language :)

Do you have an example of a sentence which is plain nonsense?   

Send it to me and I’ll help you understand the meaning!

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