Clear writing: More than just a great idea, it’s the law

Pushed by advocates of clear writing, the government—along with some in private industry—is embracing jargon-free communication under a law that takes effect in October.

Consider the woman who reportedly signed a convoluted hospital consent form but didn’t understand until after her surgery that she had agreed to have a hysterectomy.

Or the companies who assign you liability for using their software, and bury it under mountains of legalese that only a lawyer can figure out.

These are just two of the examples Annetta Cheek of the Center for Plain Language marshals to push the case for writing clearly. A retired federal employee, she is one of a cohort of language lovers who have fought a decades-long battle for straightforward communication in government and private industry.

Their efforts will receive a boost in October when the federal Plain Writing Act takes full effect. Signed into law last year by President Obama, the act requires agencies to write understandably in documents for the public.

(Federal workers will be delighted to learn that “the government will still be allowed to write nonsensically to itself,” according to the AP.)

‘A civil right’

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