The fatal flaw in the plain-English movement

One key element is missing: storytelling. A recent anti-jargon conference leaves the author underwhelmed.

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This is excellent advice. But anyone with a passion for writing might be forgiven for hoping that no one else would follow it. After all, if everyone wrote in plain English, wouldn’t we communicators be out of a job?

I thought of this fear again when I heard about a recent international three-day conference held in Washington, D.C., May 21 to 23. Sponsored by Clarity International, a worldwide group of lawyers, managers, and heads of government services, the event intended to coalesce a sentiment for speaking and writing in a more accessible manner.

Oops. What I meant to say is the event wanted to encourage plain English.

“How can you have a democracy when the citizen does not understand what the government is saying?” Annetta Cheek, board chair of the Center for Plain Language, said at the event.

Although in 2010 the United States adopted a law encouraging the simplification of administrative language, Cheek and others say the damaging effects of jargon were seen in the global financial crisis in 2008. Remember? That was when waves of mortgage owners failed to read the contracts they were signing.

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