Lori-Ann Livingston, The Circle

“The purpose of a plain-language approach in written communication is to convey information easily and unambiguously. It should not be confused with an oversimplified, condescending style. Rather, by choosing straightforward vocabulary and sentence structures and by organizing and presenting your material clearly and logically, you can save the reader time and effort and ensure that your message will be clearly understood.”

Did that sound like plain language to you? Yeah, me neither.

That paragraph is found here, on the Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau page for plain language. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of plain language, and its benefits. Government and the legal profession likely have the most work to do in plain language.

So, what should this paragraph say instead?

“Plain language makes written information easy to understand. It is written clearly. It uses direct words and sentence structures. It organizes and presents content clearly and logically. When your message is clear, you save the reader time and effort.”

With plain language writing, the goal is to write to a Grade 5 level, so a 10-year-old can understand it. There are tools in Word that help measure the readability of your document; Word uses the Fleisch-Kincaid test. You can find out your document’s score this way:

  1. go into File/Options/Proofing;

  2. find “when correcting spelling and grammar in Word”;

  3. make sure the “Show readability statistics” box is clicked.

The first paragraph in this article, from the government’s own plain language website, has a grade level score of 14+ (university or college level). My revised paragraph reduces the grade level to 6+, so still not quite to the Grade 5 level it should be.

Writing plainly is not easy.

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