It seems obvious that your readers should understand whatever it is you are writing for them. But it only seems that way because too many writers, especially those who write legal documents, don’t stop to think whether their readers will get it. I know this because I’ve attempted to read contracts and other legal documents. Although I understand most of the words, sometimes I can’t fathom the meaning.
Do you speak medical jargon? I don’t
Same goes for medical stuff. A few years ago, I had an MRI done. I got the report from the radiologist and try as I might, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. In this case, it was the vocabulary. I gave it to the doctor, and I told him that I didn’t understand the report. This doctor, as is usual with any insider, gave me a look indicating he thought I must be very slow because it was obvious to him that this report said I had a torn rotator cuff. But it wasn’t obvious to me. And it’s not because I am slow. It’s because the radiologist wrote this using medical jargon that I don’t understand.
Plain language required
You’d think the plain language movement were new. It’s not. In fact, government agencies are mandated to write in plain English since President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010. But the directive to make things clearer goes back to the 1970s (read the timeline at plainlanguage.gov).
But there are no such mandates for other industries. Sure, writing in plain language should be common sense and many businesses strive to make their writing clearer and more user friendly but others write (and speak) in industry jargon, making it hard for the average person to understand.
Of all the posts I’ve shared on LinkedIn, the following from Bloomberg Law really struck a chord:
Use Plain Language in Contract—No One Wants Legalese
It was viewed hundreds of times and shared by many readers, making it my best performing post of all time.
Here’s the bottom line: There’s a real need for people to understand what you are writing. If you need help, there are some courses available online. You may find the “Oxford Guide to Plain English” by Martin Cutts helpful. Or you could hire someone like me to copy edit your documents with plain language in mind.
About Deborah Brody
Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.