Plain language in the news
A new contract in plain English will make it easier for people to choose which retirement villages best suits their needs, says the NSW Fair Trading Minister.
From October 1, NSW is introducing the standard contract, which will include a simplified disclosure statement. Villages will also have to produce a general inquiry document that explains the services and facilities available in the village.
‘Under the new standard contract, the confusion and complexity that currently exist will be removed, with the new documents written in plain English,’ Minister Anthony Roberts said.
‘Call centers flooded with phone calls are just one hidden cost of confusing language,’ writes an Iowa congressman in support of the Plain Regulations Act, re-introduced this month to US Congress.
Representative Bruce Braley, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, continues ‘The National Small Business Association has estimated that businesses with less than 20 employees pay an extra $7,600 for each employee every year to comply with confusing regulations.’
Mr Braley urges support for the Act: ‘Join the plain language movement today, and insist on clearer communication tomorrow’.
Advising accountants about how to get ahead, an experienced chief financial officer (CFO) and CFO recruiter has told them to broaden their experience and learn how to communicate in plain English.
‘Learning how to tell a story to the board in plain English rather financial jargon is a really important skill for anyone who wants to be a CFO,’ Fergus Kiel told the Institute of Charted Accountants conference in Sydney. He urged them to join audit committees and to contribute.
Mr Kiel warned against using acronyms and referring to accounting standards to demonstrate a depth of knowledge.
‘The audit committee doesn’t usually need to be convinced the finance team understands the numbers; rather, directors want help to understand the figures themselves.’
The most popular part of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s first-term health reform law, is the ‘Summary of Benefits and Coverage’, one of the requirements for ’clear and concise information’.
A poll in November found this was viewed positively by 84% of respondents.
Under the new law, health-insurance companies are required to offer potential consumers ‘easy-to-understand’ descriptions of what benefits their policies offer, including costs and exactly what health services will be covered.
But a Consumers Union report last week warned that ‘low rates of awareness’ among health-plan shoppers show that ‘much more needs to be done to publicize consumers’ rights’. It suggests insurance companies should add more real-life examples, such as about costs for visits to emergency rooms.
Source: http://wvgazette.com/News/politics/201302280210 via Joseph Kimble
An artist and a critic who published their findings on the language of art criticism have been surprised at the volume of positive response.
Columbia University PhD student Alix Rule and artist David Levine last year analysed what they called International Art English (IAE). Among their findings are that art critics use:
• more rather than fewer words
• the abstract noun ‘the real’ 179 times more often than in standard English
• words loosely and in odd contexts (such as ‘Reality functions as my field of action’).
‘IAE has made art harder for non-professionals,’ says Rule.
The pair analysed thousands of exhibition announcements, finding popular terms included ‘radically’, ‘interrogates’, ‘subverts’, ‘void’ and ‘tension’.
As Australia works towards a referendum on constitutional change recognising its Indigenous people, the US state of Alabama is considering a call for plain language when its citizens need to vote on constitutional amendments.
Its state government will vote in 2013 on the Informed Voter Act, a bill to give a plain language summary of every amendment. In Australia, the wording of the ballot question is generally fairly clear, although often argued over before it is agreed on.
Alabama has more than 850 amendments to its constitution, introduced in 1901. Although Australia adopted its constitution in the same year, Australians have agreed to only 8 amendments since.
Source: http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/01/constitutional_amendments_more.html via Zuula Consulting
To help consumers better understand privacy policies, a Californian politician has proposed a law that every website operator should write their policies in plain language. But he’s also calling for a limit of 100 words for these online statements.
Under the proposed law, policies should ‘be written in clear and concise language [ … and] at no greater than an 8th grade reading level’. But they should also include a statement about whether personal information may be sold or shared with others, and if so, how. It’s likely that this alone could take more than 100 words.
For comparison, this brief is 134 words long.
Source: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=8a62f088-7f03-4fd7-8442-21eb8eb6ffca via Zuula Consulting
Consumer advocate Choice wants to cut through beef labelling jargon after shoppers said they were confused about the terms used to describe production.
‘When people order a grain-fed steak, they may not realise that this means cattle are in a feedlot for 60 or 70 days on a protein-rich diet with the primary objective of fast weight gain,’ said a spokesperson.
In a Choice survey, 83% of respondents wanted to know if food was ethically produced, and 91% felt there was not enough information. So the organisation has developed a guide to terms such as ‘grain-fed’, ‘grass-fed, ‘hormone-free’ and ‘organic’.
After Hurricane Sandy, many US residents faced enormous confusion over what their insurance policies covered and what they did not. In the same way that 2011 Queensland floods prompted change in laws in Australia for clearer terms, New Jersey is considering a bill for clearer policy statements.
Lawmakers have proposed that insurers must provide customers with a one-page summary of their policy’s key points at the time they buy or renew coverage. Brochures about the policy should be written in a ‘simple, clear, understandable and easily readable way’.
A US district judge has shown what he thinks of wordy expression by denying a 29-page motion. He gave a formal order that explained why, and even showed how the submission could be edited.
He gave the plaintiffs an extra week to cut the motion to the allowed 25 pages by ‘concentrating on the elimination of redundancy, verbosity, and legalisms’.
Over 6 000 parking signs in New York have a new design, featuring uniform phrasing and formatting for easier reading.
‘You shouldn’t need a Ph D in parking signage to understand where you are allowed to leave your car in New York,’ said a city council member.
Plain English features include prominent numbers to show parking times, a clear hierarchy of information and use of sentence case instead of all capitals. Restrictions are phrased positively, as ‘Commercial vehicles only’ instead of negatively as ‘No standing except commercial vehicles’.
In a paragraph hidden halfway down a media release, Citigroup announced massive job losses. But the introduction referred to the move as a ‘a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi's unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets’.
The phrase ‘repositioning actions’ earned it a place in the Plain English Foundation’s Worst Words of 2012 short list.
A branch of Britain’s health service has confounded its community with the financial jargon it used to explain its fee structures.
Winner of the UK Plain English Campaign’s Golden Globe award for the ‘worst written nonsense’, NHS Norfolk and Waveney wrote of ‘negative financial uplift’ and ‘out-turn value’.
‘Perhaps we could have chosen words that were slightly easier to digest,’ said a spokesperson.
Writemark New Zealand has announced its 2012 awards for documents and websites that are outstanding examples of plain English — or of gobbledygook.
Best of the batch? The Cancer Society of New Zealand for ‘a remarkable and thorough system to ensure that plain English is the norm across the organisation’.
And the worst? Nova Energy for its terms and conditions – described as illegible in hard copy, and even difficult to navigate in magnified electronic form. ‘A very good example of “fineprint” ‘, said the judges. Nova has promised to take the feedback seriously.
In a study with implications for information design, a Sydney scientist has challenged the long-held wisdom that 7 is the ‘magical’ number of new things the brain can process at one time.
When people were asked to repeat random list of letters, words or numbers, confusion set in after 4, an analysis by University of NSW psychiatry professor Gordon Parker found.
Plain English information design generally advocates ‘chunking’ material into short bites, and giving readers only 3 to 5 choices at a time where possible. Even though readers do not have to remember as much as those just hearing information, a document should aim for no more than 6 to 8 main chapters.
A McGill University researcher and journal editor has called for all scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals to have a short, plain language summary of the work.
In a blog on the Arthropod ecology site, Chris Buddle argued the value of these summaries for promotion of scientific work and papers to wider audiences.
One scientist responded that writing in plain language ‘involves expertise, training and skills that most people don’t have’, while others have argued for removing jargon.
The typeface on the devices in your car could take longer to read than necessary – and the added ‘glance time’ in which your eyes are away from the road is dangerous.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and typeface company Monotype Imaging have compared typefaces used by carmakers on gauges and ‘telematics screens’. The difference in time that men – but not women – took to read them is measurable.
One of the researchers said this ‘difference in glance time represents approximately 50 feet in distance when traveling at U.S. highway speed’. Which could be the difference between a close call and an injury -- or worse.
A senior Nigerian parliamentarian has endorsed the use of plain English in writing laws.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, was launching a book on legislative drafting in plain English, written by Daniel Adam, head of Legal Services for the National Assembly.
Mr Tambuwal said the book would help the public understand the legal terms used in law making. Mr Adam hopes it will contribute to law writing in Nigeria and other Commonwealth countries.
A survey of online job descriptions found that they were generally very hard to understand, and that the complexity of the text could be worse for a blue-collar worker than for a desk job such as inventory specialist.
A maintenance worker might need a reading grade of 18 (postgraduate education level) to follow the position description, according to plain language researcher William du Bay.
He found that the readability of the text often has little to do with the educational or reading requirements of the job being posted. Little attention was given to the reading difficulties of the unemployed or the need to adjust job recruitment to the reading levels of the applicants.
Plain English Foundation’s Dr Neil James headed to Auckland for the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand’s biennial conference.
On 26 October, he presented a keynote discussing the converging communications profession and what it means for the future of technical writing. He then ran a workshop on 27 October to explain the Foundation’s structure mapping tool and how to restructure long documents. You can find information on Neil’s keynote here and his workshop here.
Neil also appeared at the Australian Society for Technical Communication (NSW) conference on 2 November. His popular workshop, ‘Rediscovering rhetoric’, revisited the rhetorical canon of invention to show how the earliest tools of communication remain relevant today. Click here for more information.
After a survey found that many customers were baffled by terms such as ‘latte’, ‘mocha’, ‘venti’ and ‘grande’, Debenhams has adopted ‘plain English’ terms like ‘frothy coffee’ instead of ‘cappucino’. An espresso shot is now ‘a shot of strong coffee’.
Shopping for health insurance in the US has just become a little easier. Health insurance companies are now required to use a new, standardised, plain language form to explain what plans cover -- and what they don't.
The new form stems from a provision of the health care reform law President Barack Obama enacted in 2010. Comparing one health insurance plan to another was difficult because each company used its own forms and terminology, and it wasn't always clear whether certain services, like maternity care, were covered.
Health insurers initially objected to the draft forms, which required 12-point type as well as plain language.
The debate about whether one can effectively teach English without explicitly explaining the grammar is over, says an expert linguist from Oxford University.
Carefully analysing a wide range of studies has shown that teaching grammar rules leads to better learning and to unconscious knowledge, which lasts over time, writes Dr Catherine Walter.
English cannot be learned just by memorising chunks, she argues. Knowing rules as well as words is essential for proficiency.
The NSW Minister for Local Government has noted his state’s Local Government Act is the longest in Australia, at 550 pages. And it’s been amended 178 times since it was written in 1993.
‘What we need is a contemporary, flexible and easily understood act, written in plain English,’ Minister Don Page said earlier this month.
The Minister has appointed a committee to oversee the writing of a new act.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 2012