Writ­ing and speak­ing in plain English

The Borneo Post - Good English - - News -

NOWA­DAYS, much em­pha­sis is placed on the im­por­tance of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Young peo­ple who are look­ing for jobs are of­ten told that em­ploy­ers are look­ing for em­ploy­ees who can speak and write clearly and ef­fec­tively. Yet, many of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tions are any­thing but clear. They are of­ten con­fus­ing and some­times in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.

In re­cent years, there have been sev­eral cam­paigns in the English-speak­ing world to per­suade gov­ern­ments, and peo­ple in gen­eral, to speak and write in plain English. Re­cently the Plain Lan­guage Com­mis­sion in Bri­tain has com­plained about the un­clear lan­guage used by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in their doc­u­ments.

In or­der to show how these can be made sim­pler and more straight­for­ward, Martin Cutts of the Plain Lan­guage Com­mis­sion has rewrit­ten one of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s doc­u­ments, a di­rec­tive on toy safety, re­mov­ing some of the com­plex and ob­scure lan­guage and short­en­ing some of the long, ram­bling sen­tences. Hav­ing thus made the doc­u­ment much more in­tel­li­gi­ble, he then had it sent back to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

Lawyers and those in of­fi­cial posts are of­ten blamed for fail­ing to write in English that is read­ily un­der­stand­able by all, but they are not the only cul­prits by any means. Many peo­ple, when writ­ing a for­mal re­port of some kind or ad­dress­ing a for­mal meet­ing, use more dif­fi­cult words and more in­volved sen­tences than they would nor­mally do. They prob­a­bly feel that do­ing so makes them ap­pear more im­pres­sive or more in­tel­li­gent, but the pre­ten­tious lan­guage and the long-winded sen­tences just make it dif­fi­cult for their au­di­ences to un­der­stand their mean­ing.

Such use of pre­ten­tious lan­guage is known as jar­gon. How­ever, this is also the name given to the tech­ni­cal ter­mi­nol­ogy which peo­ple use with their col­leagues at work, and it should not be used when ad­dress­ing a wider au­di­ence who will not un­der­stand this. It is also im­por­tant, for this rea­son, to avoid buzz­words.

The aim of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is to make your­self un­der­stood. In or­der to do so, you should al­ways aim for clar­ity and brevity and never be ver­bose. Oth­er­wise, you may end up writ­ing gob­blede­gook.

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