Opinion

The Campaign for Plain English

Is he right or is he outdated?

Editor’s note: “Here at AWR we strive for constructive debate and discussion among students and those who are alumni to higher education. The short article below is an example of continued dialogue between disgruntled readers and our editorial team. We hope that all readers would feel comfortable sending us an email at alumniweeklyreview@gmail.com should they disagree with something we had written. We have certainly learned from Gerry Hughes’ submission, which you can read below.”

Whenever I have read essays prepared by my grandchildren for University consumption I have been aghast at the pompous and encumbered way in which they are written. I should have written the previous sentence differently under the guidelines of plain English. It would have been simpler to read as – whenever I read essays my grandchildren wrote while they were studying at University I have been appalled at their style. Their sentence structure is too complex. Their use of longer words may show a wide vocabulary but prevents a quick understanding of their content.

In general, the plain English campaign recommends the following practices:-

  • Keep sentences short
  • Use active verbs
  • Use you and we
  • Use lists where it makes sense to do so

You can list sources in a thesis, but not when you are writing to persuade your reader. Rather than referring to page numbers, make a direct quotation. Keep your message clear. Your readers will find it easier to understand.

If there are more than two four syllabled words in a sentence – change it so that there is no more than one.

Read what you write again before you print it off or assume it is finished. Try and make your message clearer and easier for your readers to understand. Read it with fresh eyes and check it all again.

If you are completing a complex piece, look at the words that might mislead your readers. Words are precision instruments. You must change your style to suit your purpose. There is a difference between descriptive and evaluative words. The former do not carry any reason for your reader to derive any emotional content. Use evaluative words to cause your readers to react in the way you are planning. I once used a Plain English app to look at a Programming Guide that I had written. After seeing how pompous and complex my language had been, I re-wrote it to make it simpler and easier to understand. Avoid situations where you are trying to impress with your extended vocabulary. You can convey nuances without being pompous.

Written by Gerry Hughes MA(Oxon)

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