The art of plain English project is attempting to do what the majority of the people in the education sector seemed to have given up on – make their information usable and easy to understand.

I have been fighting my own little war against jargon for a long time and on many fronts. I often come across the lazy argument which centers on the idea that if that’s the way others around you are talking, that’s the language you should be using too.

Wrong, I say. And now with the project, I’ve got something other than my own stubborn hate of complex academic language to back up my argument.

“All audiences should understand our content; this isn’t ‘dumbing down’, this is opening up government information to all.”

“Use plain English – don’t use complicated or long words when easy or short ones will do – use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.”

In fact, the whole ‘Plain English’ advice (1.6 in the style guide) is in a nutshell what we’re trying to get across in our Writing for the Web workshop.

Am I alone in thinking there seems to be an underlying reluctance to follow these guidelines in higher education? Why is it so scary to allow people to understand what you’re saying?

There’s a classic quote floating around internet (often attributed to Einstein) that relates closely to this. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I can’t help to think this really is the case at times. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve occasionally fallen into the comforting blanket of vague terms and big words to get away from a situation where I haven’t completely understood what the hell was going on.

We all do it in real life I’m sure. And that’s OK. But most of the time, we do know what’s going on. Especially when adding information on a website. Let’s stop hiding the meaning in fluffy sentences and massive paragraphs. Let’s instead do what the government suggests:

“Write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-to-one but with the authority of someone who can actively help.”


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