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!