Plain Language Commission . Clear English Standard

About us

  1. Team members
  2. Why use plain language?
  3. Our business principles
  4. Frequent questions about our range of services
  5. Before-and-after examples
  6. How we test and apply our standards
  7. Words or figures?
  8. Our spelling choices
  9. Errors on the site
  10. Our terms of business and our privacy policy
  11. Cookies

Frequent questions about our range of services

Q: What is plain English or plain language?

Martin Cutts: There are several definitions, as a page on Wikipedia shows: But as plain English is hard to define, I’d rather describe it, for example: ‘The writing and setting out of essential information in a way that gives a co-operative, motivated person a good chance of understanding the intended meaning at first reading.’

This places the reader at centre stage and means we’re always trying to do the difficult job of putting ourselves in the reader’s shoes. But it also means the reader has to make an effort and meet the writer half way. Writers can sometimes clarify to the point of obscurity: by using simple words they may become verbose; by over-explaining they may state the obvious so readers get bored and switch off. Our job as editors is to balance all the relevant factors in a text and ensure it’s highly readable for as many people as possible – without disadvantaging fluent and savvy readers.

Q: Must we accept your editing suggestions on a document if we want it accredited with the Clear English Standard?
MC: No, you’re free to accept and reject them as you please. But if you’re seeking accreditation, we’ll consider how far you’ve adopted our suggestions. Your document or website must meet the accreditation criteria shown on this site.

Q: Why use Plain Language Commission instead of your competitors?
MC: People who’ve tried our competitors often breathe a big sigh of relief when they come to us. They find our editing suggestions easier to understand, better written, less petty and more realistic. They also find us quicker and cheaper than our rivals, and they think the Clear English Standard is well designed and looks good on their documents. And they always know who’s working for them because they can see names, faces and qualifications on this site.

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