Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Plain English - The Simplest English

Learning Plain English

Teaching and learning English is a ‘Million Dollar Industry’ today. Whatever we learn at the so called elite institutions of English Language Teaching (ELT) becomes stale and archaic. Many times we fail to use appropriate words to suit the occasion. Roundabout way of speaking, use of complex and compound sentences become obstacles in understanding the speech or writing. We can use simple and plain language to avoid such cumbersome sentences.
The Plain Language Commission and the Plain Language Network, the Plain Language Association International (1993) are advocating the use of simple language. Their members include professionals who plan, write, design, and create communications projects to better serve the needs of the public, clients, customers, professionals, students and teachers. They work for all kinds of organizations — government departments, financial services companies, registered social organizations, regulators, ombudsmen, local authorities, pension schemes, hospital trusts, utilities, telecom companies and international law firms.
The Plain Language Commission is independent of Government. It is personally managed by Martin Cutts, author of ‘The Oxford Guide to Plain English’ and ‘Lucid Law’. Editors and course presenters include Sarah Carr, Ruth Thornton, Christina Gleeson and Judy Brown. They have brought out Plain English Lexicon to make the meaning of the words clear and understood well. They are publishing a newsletter “Pikestaff” which can be downloaded free of cost.

What is Plain Language?
‘The writing and setting out of essential information in a way that gives a co-operative, motivated person a good chance of understanding the document at first reading, and in the same sense that the writer meant it to be understood.’
On 26 July 1979 Martin Cutts conceived what seemed like one of the strangest crusades of modern times, the Plain English Campaign. Strange or not, the idea of plain language in written public information has gradually begun to take root in the public mind and in government and commercial life in many parts of the world. In the booklet “ Twenty Five years of battling gobbledygook”(26 July 1979 to 26 July 2004) we have a looks back on Cutts’s 25 years as a campaigner, editor, author and teacher in the plain-language field – first with the Plain English Campaign and now with Plain Language Commission – and considers what still needs to be done.

Style and Grammar

The Plain Language Commission gives importance to the style appropriate for the audience, with a good average sentence length (say 15-20 words), plenty of active-voice verbs, and reasonably short paragraphs. It also checks whether the document is free of pomposity, verbosity and officialese (no aforesaids, notwithstandings, herebys, adumbrates, commencements and inter alias). It gives importance to the text which is simple, grammatically sound and well punctuated.

Why should we use plain language?

The Plain Language Commission recommends the use of simple, sensible and clear sentences to make the people understand. As it is very simple everyone understands and there will not be any confusion in filling up the required documents. Plain language is fair language because it informs and empowers people instead of baffling and oppressing them. People have the right to understand the documents that affect them. Now the industry leaders are using clear writing as an important part of their brand image.

Free Books and Study Materials

A few of the Plain Language books can be downloaded free of charge from
They are:‘Twenty-five years of battling gobbledygook’, ‘Lucid Law’, ‘Clarifying Eurolaw’ all these three books by Martin Cutts, and ‘Clarifying EC Regulations’ by Martin Cutts and Emma Wagner.
‘The Oxford Guide to Plain English’ by Martin Cutts (Pub.: Oxford University Press), ‘Indlish — The Book for Every English-Speaking Indian’ by Jyoti Sanyal and ‘Good Word Guide’ (A&C Black) are available for sale. For more details you can contact the commission at this address: Plain Language Commission, The Castle, 29 Stoneheads, Whaley Bridge, High Peak SK23 7BB, UK

1 5 Tips on Wr i t i n g Plain English

1 Consider carefully your purpose and message before starting to write – clear writing and clear thinking go hand in hand.
2 Wear the readers’ shoes – how would you feel in their position?
3 Plan a structure that will help the reader, perhaps with headings, bullet-point lists, and a pithy summary of key points at the start.
4 In letters and emails, tell the reader clearly, concisely and courteously what has happened, how the situation stands, and what they can expect next.
5 Match your writing to the needs and knowledge of the readers – some of them may be baffled by official jargon and procedures.
6 Write sentences that average 15–20 words.
7 Keep the word order simple. In most sentences, put the doer early and follow it with an active-voice verb.
8 Take pride in using everyday English, sound grammar and accurate punctuation.
9 Where appropriate, use ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ to make the writing more human.
10 Maintain the flow by starting some of your sentences with connectors like ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘so’ and ‘because’.
11 Use commands when writing instructions.
12 Cut unnecessary words.
13 Check that the facts and judgement are right. Nothing compensates for inaccuracy or illogicality.
14 Pre-test your high-use documents with typical readers.
15 Apply common sense and scepticism to all guidance about writing.
Now, Plain English, sans flowery sentences with full of idioms and phrases, is becoming popular in England and other foreign countries. Why don’t we have taste of it? Let’s try.
Article by - Bedre Manjunath
Address: Bedre Manjunath, Transmission Executive, All India Radio, Chitradurga

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