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Cordelia Reardon. The Plain English Campaign and Its Advice

 

 Use Technical Terms Sparingly

 

Cutts (1995:25) also identifies the fear that if a person writes in Plain English, they may not be regarded as being ‘eminent, scientific or literary’.

Conversely, Collinson (et al 1993: 85) ascertains that it is perfectly acceptable to use technical terms.  They are required by specialist writers to make a specific point to the reader.  Therefore it is not necessarily wrong to use technical terms in an appropriate context.

A text riddled with techno gobbledegook can change from

 

Undue attachment to the thesis that inflation is the result solely of institutional factors might cause the contribution made to inflation by excess demand to be neglected and the existence of excess demand to be prolonged (Collinson et al 1992: 85)

to a more reader friendly version as per the campaign’s advice to use technical terms sparingly i.e.

 

Inflation is caused not only by institutional factors but also by excess demand.  Unless we recognise this and act on it, excess demand is likely to continue (Collinson et al 1993: 85).

The communicative impairments discussed so far, are merely inconveniences when compared to, what is possibly, the complete opposite to Plain English.  By this, I am referring to jargon.

Collinson (et al 1992: 83) identifies jargon as ‘ugly-sounding and difficult to understand’.  The meaning of the message is completely obscured by excessive use of technical language.

An example includes the following by Sir Ernest Gowers

 

Manpower ceilings are a very blunt macro-instrument and will be either ineffective or unduly restrictive if not based on the results of management reviews and other ‘micro’ activities …ceilings are biting, but this is what they were meant to do (cited in Collinson et al 1992: 83).

The message is unclear but could be interpreted as

 

An overall restriction on manpower should only be applied when all details of the situation have been fully considered.  Restrictions will force changes, but this is what they were meant to do (Collinson et al 1992:83).

The Plain English Campaign (2008) have identified the legal industry as one of the most frequent perpetrators of jargon. However, Cutts (1995: 8) has identified the industry’s successful use of Plain English by ascertaining that ‘no company that has issued a plain English insurance policy, pension contract or bank guarantee has ever reverted to a traditional legalistic style of wording’.

Conversely, Crystal (2003: 374) questions the feasibility of ‘a simplified, universally intelligible legal English’.  While he accepts the prospect is appealing, he believes it would be foolish to completely abolish such an established legal language. Those who wish to do so, i.e. The Plain English Campaign, most likely do not appreciate the full extent of its function.

Crystal (2003: 174) also concludes that everyone uses jargon and that it is not always a negative aspect of language.  Jargon is woven into many occupations, sports and social groups.  It can help a person to show their professional awareness and ‘know-how’, and can aid social togetherness between colleagues through the use of ‘shop-talk’.  Many people also take pleasure in using jargon when it relates to a hobby, interest or joke and this is not to confuse or catch-out the listener or reader.

Abiding by the Plain English Campaign’s advice does not always result in fool proof communication.  Such is the case with an infamous speech made by Donald Rumsfeld

 

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know (cited on Chubarov c. 2009).

Technically, the words are clear and simple and the sentences are short. The difficulty in deciphering the meaning arises because of the speech’s use of repetition.  The speaker has also bombarded the listener with several consecutive points instead of making one or two.  This results in an overloaded speech, albeit thought provoking.

In conclusion, Plain English has made huge improvements to the clarity of various documents.  This, in turn, has helped ordinary people to gain better access to ‘benefits and services, justice and a fair deal’ (Cutts 1995: 8).  Plain English allows people to better understand what they are asked to read and sign, therefore they can make choices and decisions on an informed basis.  Straight forward language has become an integral part of correspondence ‘between consumers and business’, and also between ‘citizens and the State’ (Cutts 1995:8).

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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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