Keep it simple, stupid — it’s the law

smudged glasses

Do you ever find yourself wading through a swamp of verbal sludge issued from a torpid governmental organ and wonder, ‘Does it have to be this complicated?’ The answer is ‘no’ – in fact, in the USA it’s now illegal to be.

Despite being a very busy man with a lot on his plate, President Barack Obama has still found time to sign into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

The stated purpose of the Act is to ‘enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly’. Furthermore, the Act defines plain writing as ‘writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.’

As the Red Pony Clear Writing course explains, clear writing involves asking oneself questions more than it involves consulting an authority for answers. Start with these:

  1. What is my one central message?
  2. Who is my audience?
  3. Am I making life easier or harder for my audience?

This last one is really a catch-all for a million different practical questions and tips from ‘What font is best?’ to ‘Don’t turn verbs onto nouns!’ But the first two are the indispensable questions that will always put you on the right track from the start.

Now that all US Government departments are required to produce plain language versions of all their public documents, can Australia be far behind? Unfortunately, the answer is in the affirmative. I mean, the answer is ‘yes’.


photo credit: Håkan Dahlström (cc)