Reliable document accreditation service
Do your customers really understand your documents – you know, the boring stuff like terms and conditions, how-to guides and welcome packs? Getting the message across in good, clear English isn’t easy, but that’s what Plain Language Commission does. Our editing and accreditation service helps to make your draft documents grammatically sound and easy to understand.
Helping you clarify
Customers want clarity. So if you’re making the effort to write your leaflets, how-to guides, and terms and conditions in plain language, why not let your customers know?
Displaying the Clear English Standard helps you do this. It shows that your documents have passed a rigorous check of clarity, grammar and layout by experts in the field. The Clear English Standard also gives you a competitive edge and a public-relations boost by reassuring customers that you’ve taken extra care to be clear.
More than 15,000 documents carry the Clear English Standard, which has appeared on more than 200 million printed items. One accredited document has gone to every UK household – probably the widest distribution of an accredited plain-language document anywhere in the world.
Many organizations have gained the Clear English Standard for their major public documents. They include Lloyds Bank, Local Government Ombudsman, Financial Services Compensation Scheme, B&CE, Co-ownership Housing, Places For People, the Insolvency Service, Zurich, Dencover, the Scottish Government, Radian, and East Durham Homes.
What are the next steps?
- Email your draft document to us in Word (preferably) or PDF. We’ll provide a no-obligation estimate based on the charges in the table below. Alternatively, use the ‘Document accreditation: request’ form below.
- We’ll return the draft with detailed editing suggestions, usually shown in track changes if it’s a Word document. We aim to return these initial edits in three to five working days. If you need them sooner, please tell us. We’ll normally invoice soon after sending our first edits.
- You incorporate the suggestions you can accept and send us a new Word document or PDF. We’ll offer any further suggestions, usually within two days.
- Assuming the document now meets the criteria, we’ll award the Clear English Standard. We’ll email you the logo and provide an accreditation number (your licence to use the symbol on that edition of the document).
Not a guarantee
Our accreditation is always an opinion as to whether a document meets our criteria. It is neither an official endorsement nor a guarantee that the document will be clear to every reader. Any clarity guarantee would in any case be meaningless unless supported by genuine consumer testing.
What are the accreditation criteria?
The simple answer is that the document should be easy to read and use. The association of plain-language professionals, the International Plain Language Federation, puts it like this: ‘A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.’
So plain language is not an absolute: it depends on the audience. What is plain to scientists may be obscure to lay people. It’s inevitable that some documents will use technical language but, where possible, they should give explanations. We can accredit a difficult text if we feel it could not be put more simply without verbosity or loss of meaning. Hence we do not expect all documents to be equally plain to everybody, though they should always be right for the intended audience.
We take account of layout too, because clear writing and good structure need to be complemented by good use of type, white space etc.
No document will ever be perfect, but to win the right to display the Standard it should meet the criteria indicated by the following questions.
Normal maximum charges
The prices in the table apply unless a document needs only a little editing (discount) or a lot of editing (extra charge). We’ll provide a no-obligation quotation, then invoice you when we send our initial edits.
|Length of document||Cost|
|500 words or fewer||£150|
(Prices exclude any UK VAT if we have to charge it.) We charge for documents longer than this by individual quotation. Usually the longer the document, the lower the rate per 1,000 words. Please ask us for a quotation.
- Is the purpose obvious or stated early and clearly?
- Is the information accurate, relevant and complete, anticipating readers’ questions and answering them?
- Are essential technical terms explained or defined?
- Is a contact point stated for readers who want to know more?
- Is the information well organized and easy to navigate, with good headings and sub-headings?
- Is there good use of illustrations, diagrams and summary panels?
Style and grammar
- Is the style right for the audience, with a good average sentence length (say 15–20 words), plenty of active-voice verbs, and reasonably short paragraphs?
- Is the document free of pomposity, verbosity and officialese (no aforesaids, notwithstandings, herebys, adumbrates, commencements and inter alias)?
- Is the text grammatically sound and well punctuated?
- Is capitalization consistent in text and headings?
- On any contents page, are headings consistent with those in the text?
Layout and design
- Does the document look good?
- Is the type easily readable and is there enough space between lines of type?
- Is there a clear hierarchy of headings and spaces?
- Have emphasis devices, such as bold type, been used well?
for using the Clear English Standard symbol (updated 18 July 2019)
In these conditions, ‘we’ means Plain Language Commission, a trading name of clearest.co.uk ltd; ‘you’ means the organization applying to use the print version of the Clear English Standard; and ‘symbol’ means the Clear English Standard.
2 Acceptance of conditions
These are the only conditions under which the symbol may be used, but we may vary them in writing. By using the scheme, you are agreeing to accept and be bound by the conditions.
3 Use of the symbol on one edition
Once we authorise your use of the symbol, you may use it in accordance with these conditions on one edition of the document concerned.
4 Ownership of the symbol
The symbol artwork, electronic file and all reproductions of it remain our property.
5 Reproduction of the symbol
Size: The symbol must be reproduced so the type is highly legible to someone with normal eyesight.
Colour: The symbol should be reproduced in black on a white background (unless a coloured paper is being used). If black is not available, the darkest colour should be used against a white background. The symbol should not be reproduced in negative (‘reversed out’). However, the black areas may be altered to your preferred colour – you’ll need the right software to do this.
Position: The symbol must be at least 6mm from all page edges, and at least 6mm clear of any other text and graphics. If these restrictions cause you difficulty, please Contact us.
6 Copies of accredited documents
Normally we keep only an electronic version of each accredited document on file.
7 Alterations to accredited documents
When you wish to alter a document carrying the symbol, you must get our permission to continue using the symbol (unless the alterations are trivial). We will never unreasonably refuse permission. We will check the alterations and may suggest amendments. If less than half an hour’s work is needed, we won’t make a charge. Otherwise we’ll charge £90/hr + VAT.
8 Legal liability; status of our editorial advice
You agree we have no legal liability for an accredited document’s contents or any legal consequences arising from them or from your use of the symbol. You agree to indemnify us (protect us fully against loss) in the event of any legal action arising from the document or from your use of the symbol. Our editorial service is purely advisory on all matters. We do not give legal or technical advice and we are not lawyers. You should satisfy yourself that the accredited document fulfils all its intended purposes, including legal purposes.
How to display the logo
Full details about displaying the Clear English Standard logo are given in our Conditions, but here are the main points:
- You should display the logo at a size that means the type is highly legible to someone with normal eyesight.
- The logo must be printed in the darkest colour available. It must never be ‘reversed out’ – but the black areas may be altered to your preferred colour.
- There should be at least 6mm of free space between the Clear English Standard and other printed matter, logos etc.