The push to use plain writing has taken a strong foothold not only for government documents but for global business as well.
I was surprised to learn the wide reach of plain language utilization. It has been a topic of discussion in the U.S since the 1990s, and President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010. In the U.K., a Plain English Campaign was launched in 1979. The irony for me is that since becoming a writer, I have been working diligently to build my vocabulary unaware of the trend to simplify language.
What is plain English?
According to Plain Language.gov, “Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.” It involves fewer words and word substitutions like go with versus accompany and correct versus accurate. This makes sense in the government and legal arena since individuals should not need a law degree to comply with regulations or sign commonplace contracts. What is interesting is that global business has embraced the plain language concept, discouraging employees from corporate-speak.
Trending in global communication
I confess when I became aware that plain language is the direction in which global companies are going, my first thought was that this is a sad attempt to dumb down the English language. Apparently, I am not alone. Plain Language.gov does refer to this thinking as a common myth and addresses it by explaining that the point is to use words the targeted audience will easily understand. Relative to the corporate arena, the intent is clear, especially for companies doing business on a global scale. Even in local markets, professionals often need to communicate with clients for whom English is not their first language.
However, it seems to me this thrust towards language that is clearer, simpler and direct has more to do with time than education level. Busy professionals will not or cannot take the time to read a document with lengthy syntax. Web readers are a special breed, as they tend to scan more than read. Factor into this the overwhelming amount of information thrown at us each day, socially and professionally, and capturing a reader’s attention is more challenging than ever. Therefore, from a corporate standpoint, I am now a convert and embrace Plain English.
In the case of the creative writer who wants to embellish a story with colorful language, parallelisms, etc., this begs the question, is the key to write for the general audience or to find the audience drawn to the creator’s writing style?