List of plain language alternatives

June 2, 2009

Having edited hundreds of scientific reports in the past few months, I have seen some pretty ordinary writing — unclear, passive voice, third person, future tense, assigning actions to inanimate objects, disagreements between subjects and verbs, etc.

But the worst offenders are the words the authors continue to utilize use, perhaps in the hope that their reports may sound more learned. Wrong! It just makes them harder to read and understand.

There’s a lot to be said for clear writing, and finally governments around the world are doing something about it. The US Federal Government, for example, has this:

On June 1, 1998, President Clinton issued an executive memo requiring agencies to write in plain language. Several statutes have also admonished agencies to write certain types of documents in plain language. In 2004, an interagency task force working on behalf of the Office of Management and Budget called for federal websites to be written in plain language. (from: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/whatisPL/index.cfm)

And on the US Federal Government’s Plain Language website, they have a list of recommended simple words and phrases: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/wordsuggestions/simplewords.cfm

plain_languageNote: The Plain English Foundation and the ASTC (NSW) are joining forces to host the Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN) annual conference in Sydney in October 2009. Conference details…

[Links last checked November 2011]


  1. The references section of our in-house style guide includes the US Plain Language Guidelines. Great stuff there.

    I recently added this quotation to my signature file. “If the same idea can be expressed in a simple way or in a complex way, the simple way is better–and, paradoxically, it will typically lead readers to conclude that the writer is smarter.” Bryan Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage (2003)

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