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Cordelia Reardon. The Plain English Campaign and Its Advice

 

 Make Your Point Succinctly

 

 

 

Not only must the writer make language choices to suit their purpose, they must make sure these choices are appropriate for the reader.  The Plain English Campaign (1993: 25) believe that to do this effectively, the writer should use the simplest words that make the point succinctly. 

Cutts (1995:19) elaborates on this point and suggests that the communicative value of sentences which overcomplicate straightforward ideas is lost because they are designed to ‘impress rather than inform’.

For example,

 

At present the recessionary cycle is aggravating volumes through your modern manufacturing and order processing environment which provide restricted opportunities for cost reduction through labour adjustments and will remain a key issue (Cutts 1995:19).

Cutts (1995) determines that, while centuries ago, people were impressed with flamboyant language, a modern reader would abhor the task of deciphering the message.

A version more in keeping with The Plain English Campaign’s advice would read

 

Output and orders have fallen because of the recession but there is little scope for reducing the workforce (Cutts 1995: 19).

It is sometimes necessary to be even more direct. The Campaign therefore encourages the use of imperatives, especially in the case of written instructions.  If a writer uses the imperative, they are able to communicate the action at an early point and keep the message simple.  For example, ‘Stand in boiling water for ten minutes, then open’ (Cutts 1995: 132). 

Imperatives can also be used to address someone directly, for example, ‘brush your teeth’ (The Plain English Campaign 2008). However, the commanding nature of such instructions may discourage a writer from using them.  The Campaign advises that the bossy element of imperatives can be softened by prefixing ‘please’.  For example, ‘please send it to me’ (The Plain English Campaign 2008).  The problem with the advice to use ‘please’ is that, in some instances, it may make a direct order sound like a request.  This may not be suitable in safety critical areas.  For example, ‘Please do not swim in the lake’ does not have the same implications of danger as ‘Do not swim in the lake’.

Writing can also be made more direct by avoiding the use of nominalisations (The Plain English Campaign 2008). For example, ‘The ban on smoking in public places in 2007 has led to a fall in hospital admissions for smoking-related diseases’ (Newcastle University 2009) can be improved in accordance with the campaign’s advice.  In which case, it could read ‘The government banned smoking in public places in 2007. Since then, fewer people have been admitted to hospital for smoking-related diseases’ (Newcastle University 2009).

The use of the verb gives the impression of action, which is likely to appease a reader who is waiting for an outcome.  The nominalisation simply names the action and this can weigh the sentence down with a sense of inactivity.  However, Newcastle University’s Writing Development Centre (2009) highlights that nominalisations are appropriate in conventional academic writing ‘because they convey an objective, impersonal tone’.

Cutts (1995: 25) suggests that the reason for excessive writing is the writer’s fear of being definite.  A definite statement makes it difficult for the writer to later deny or escape from a certain point or promise. However, plain English does allow for hesitation and vagueness.  For example, words can be used such as ‘may’, ‘might’ or ‘could’.

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EVALUATE THE PEC'S ADVICE

  Use Clear and Simple Structure

  Use the Right Verb Forms and Pronouns

  Make Your Point Succinctly

  Use Technical Terms Sparingly

  References

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