Thursday, 30 June 2016

Just plain obvious. Guess what "THIS" is?

What do you think "THIS" is?

[THIS THING] means an excavation, structure or vessel:
(a) that is capable of being filled with water to a depth greater than 300 millimetres, and
(b) that is solely or principally used, or that is designed, manufactured or adapted to be solely or principally used, for the purpose of swimming, wading, paddling or any other human aquatic activity, and includes a spa pool, but does not include a spa bath, anything that is situated within a bathroom or anything declared by the regulations not to be a [THIS THING] for the purposes of this Act.
Do you give up? 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 an extract of the SWIMMING POOLS ACT 1992 - SECT 3 in New South Wales, Australia.

They could have saved some time and used the dictionary : 

.. a large structure that is filled with water and that is used for swimming.

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 engineering terms if you are addressing engineers.  

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...”) 

Remember the benefits too:

- Clear communication helps readers understand, make better decisions and actually saves your organisation money (fewer e-mails, phone calls and better customer service). 

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

Do you have an example of a sentence which is plain nonsense? 
Let me know in the comments below and I'll try to make sense of it!

Friday, 10 June 2016

What is plain language? And why should you use it too?

Sometimes it is easier to define something by what it’s not. It’s not what pilots speak. And it’s definitely NOT legalese or finance speak!

Plain language is a way of writing both clearly and effectively. It’s about everyday language instead of complex grammar or outdated words.

Law and finance have a bad reputation for complex language. You might find it wordy or unclear.

But somehow, this “sophisticated legalese” went viral. It spread faster than its less glamorous cousin, plain language.

I believe that legalese and finance speak are heading for the exit door.

Just look at how :

- GOV.UK is making public information such as tax more accessible to citizens. 
- travel insurance companies explain their policies in a more visual format. 
- online bank statements are becoming easier to read.

But we still have a long way to go. 

For example, you might see this :-

Finance speak:

The current financial climate is conducive to optimal capital investment returns.

I'd like to see more of this :-

Plain language:

Invest now! It’s the best time!
Now there's only one way you can understand that!

So let’s make way for the new kid in town - plain language. It does what it says on the tin. It’s clear, efficient and transparent.   You read it and you understand it.

And on that note, I’d like to end with a delightful quote from the great man, 

Leonardo da Vinci:

La semplicità è la massima raffinatezza

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.