Plain Language

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

I know that this isn’t news since the Plain Language Act passed last year, but since I’ve recently talked about convoluted and over-inflated language, I thought I’d mention it now.

Law language is often full of doublespeak and confusing terminology, much of it with no apparent purpose other than to confuse those who aren’t used to reading such material, and the Plain Language Web site (related to the previously mentioned act) includes some “before” and “after” examples of laws.

The goal of the site is to highlight how much more understandable laws would be if written in plain language, but the before-and-after comparisons page also illustrates how confusing our daily communication may be if we use the same stilted, long-winded approach.

Here’s one example (before and the much simpler after):


After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September 1997. CA/OR DGN vessel operators are required to attend Skipper Edication Workshops at annual intervals thereafter, unless that requirement is waived by NMFS. NMFS will provide sufficient advance notice to vessel operators by mail prior to convening workshops.


After notification from NMFS, vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing each fishing season.

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