Why use plain language?
Whether you’re writing to customers, colleagues or members of the public, it makes sense to use language they’ll easily be able to understand. We can call this ‘plain language’ or ‘clear language’. Plain language improves efficiency and saves money because more people will read and act upon the documents you send them. They won’t need to ask you to explain, or fill in a form wrongly.
Plain language is fair language because it informs and empowers people. We think people have the right to understand the documents, instructions and product labels that affect them. Plain language is required by many leading organizations, by several regulators and even by some laws. The Unfair Terms in Contracts Regulations 1999, for example, required standard-form consumer contracts to be written in ‘plain, intelligible language’. Since 2003 the Law Society of England and Wales has required solicitors (under the Solicitors’ Charter) to communicate clearly with customers.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires written terms of consumer contracts to be ‘transparent’. The main aspect of transparency is that the term should be plain and intelligible to the average person, whom the Act defines as ‘a consumer who is reasonably well informed, observant and circumspect’.
Industry leaders use clear writing as an important part of their brand image. Pret A Manger, the café chain, puts this clear promise on its carrier bags: ‘Every Pret has its own kitchen. We don’t have a factory. We make our sandwiches, baguettes and PretWraps one by one, right here, throughout the day. You won’t find sell-by dates and storage information on our sandwiches and wraps. If our fresh food doesn’t sell out each day we give it away to charity rather than compromise our standards.’
A head of department of a leading international law firm says: ‘We are paid for the words on the paper and we should never forget that. We have spent a lot of money on our brand, and a key part of our brand is the clarity of our documents.’
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