Lori-Ann Livingston, The Circle

Have you encountered situations where a document’s language caused more trouble than it solved? Perhaps you had to read it several times to understand the content, or you had to make a phone call to the document’s owner to answer questions about it.

Contracts and legal documents are known to be difficult to understand. The language is formal, with run-on sentences and words that are no longer in common usage – heretofore, whereas, aforementioned, etc.

But it’s not just legal language that is hard to understand. If any article or document is not written in your first language, or you have a learning disability, you might have difficulty reading and understanding it.

In the 1990s, a movement called plain language began to make documents easy to understand the first time they’re read. Plain language means everyone can access the services you offer; it’s good customer service. It is, simply, about good communication.

Plain language legal writing refers to legal writing that is well thought-out, well organized, and understandable to the client without interpretation: the language is clear, the legal concepts are explained and the technical terms are defined.

In Europe, some corporations now mark their documentation to indicate the item is written in plain language. Here are some common offenders in the way we use English, and some alternatives you can choose instead.

INSTEAD OF: assist, assistance            We can provide assistance.

USE: aid, help                                     We can help.

INSTEAD OF: commence                     The program will commence at noon.

USE: begin, start                                 The program starts at noon.

INSTEAD OF: implement                     We will implement the plans in March.

USE: carry out, start                            The plans will start in March.

INSTEAD OF: in accordance with    Guidelines are in place in accordance with the bylaw.

USE: by, following, per, under                Guidelines follow the bylaw.

INSTEAD OF: in the amount of              Please write a cheque in the amount of $50.

USE: for                                            Please provide a cheque for $50.

If your documents are in plain language, it could be the difference between a phone call from a client, or a lawsuit.

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