Our award-winning authors of our Top Notch course, Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, believe that: “English is a life skill for people all over the world, who use it as a lingua franca to function in business, study and travel.” So whether they are workers, students or tourists, in order for these people to get the most out of their experiences, companies, governments and official organisations are often encouraged to use “plain English” in their communications.

The preference for plain English stems from the desire for communication to be clear and concise. This not only helps native English speakers to understand things better, but it also means that those learning English have access to clearer vocabulary. Plain English is free of jargon, “legalese” and using complicated words for the sake of it. There is even a UK organisation, Plain English, that helps companies and organisations edit and rewrite their documents so that they are expressed in simple, plain English.

We take a look at some examples where plain English is being encouraged to help English speakers and learners understand things more easily…

  • Stony Brook University in New York State has been helping technology start-up experts talk in plain English about what they do. With technologies in use all over the world, it is important that non-scientists or those with a limited knowledge of technology can understand why these products and services should matter to them. The university’s journalism school helps the attendees distil difficult concepts into plain language for customers and the media so they can understand them better. Not only is this a benefit for consumers but start-up companies will also be able to reach more potential customers and investors.
  • In the UK, rail passengers can claim compensation for journeys that have been delayed by more than 30 minutes. To help them do this, train companies have been ordered to explain the claims process to customers using plain English. The Office of Rail and Road said the information given to passengers “needs to be better and the process must be clearer”. It is hoped that the use of plain English will mean that more passengers realise they can claim their money back – and understand how to do it.
  • In India, there was a recent call to use plain English in news reporting after a journalist wrote this about the UK’s vote to leave the EU: “The scale of unknowable consequences that the United Kingdom has brought upon itself – and the rest of the world – with the vote in the referendum to leave the European Union was best gauged by the relative sobriety with which one of the Leave camp’s most voluble campaigners reacted.” So more readers can understand the articles, shorter sentences have also been called for.
  • Presidential candidate Donald Trump is often clear about his views but was recently blasted for using too much jargon in an advert for a sales manager at his golf resort in Scotland. The ad for the £65,000 a year position tells candidates: “You will provide leadership to the resort’s reactive and proactive sales channels, ensuring all activity is aligned to the resort’s goals and objectives.” The successful candidate will need to “lead and inspire sales and marketing ambassadors to achieve all revenue goals” and “take a proactive approach to leadership”. Steve Jenner from Plain English described the advert as a “prime piece of tripe”.
  • In Scotland, a professor claims that the use of plain English in reporting DNA results will help prevent miscarriages of justice. Forensic expert Professor Sue Black from Dundee has played a key role in creating a new series of guides that aim to ensure science is simplified for the legal profession, the victims, the accused, the families and, vitally, the jurors. To help her write the new guides, a mock trial was set up where people on the jury were asked how they needed certain results and situations clearly explained to them.

Have you seen examples of English where too much jargon has been used? Or have you read a complicated sentence that doesn’t appear to make any sense? Tell us about it in the comments section below…

In this article