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Encyclopedia > Plain English

Plain English focuses on being a flexible and efficient writing style that readers can understand in one reading. It uses only as many words as are necessary. It combines

  • clear, concise expression
  • an effective structure
  • good design.

It tries to avoid obscurity, inflated vocabulary, and convoluted sentences. Proponents say that plain English lets readers concentrate on the message instead of complicated language.



Before the 20th century, it was fashionable for English-language writers to use a very bloated, rambling style. A sentence could take up half a page, with its subordinate clauses following several tangents. In some other European languages, such as German, sentences that were even more extensive were also frequent; the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel was known for writing sentences that easily occupied three pages. The term writer can apply to anyone who creates a written work, but the word more usually designates those who write creatively or professionally, or those who have written in many different forms. ... In linguistics, a sentence is a unit of language, characterised in most languages by the presence of a finite verb. ... A philosopher is a person who thinks deeply regarding people, society, the world, and/or the universe. ... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ...

It is not clear where this tradition came from, but it may have originated with classical Latin, in which such prose was perfectly acceptable. Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ...

Important Influences

In the late 19th century, several gifted writers (e.g., Abraham Lincoln) demonstrated that plain English could be elegant when executed properly (e.g., the Gettysburg Address); but they were ahead of their time. Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), sometimes called Abe Lincoln and nicknamed Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter, and the Great Emancipator, was the 16th President of the United States (1861 to 1865), and the first president from the Republican Party. ... The only known photo of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg (seated, center), taken about noon, just after Lincoln arrived and some three hours before he spoke. ...

During the 1920s, such style guides as William Strunk Jr.'s The Elements of Style actively promoted the idea of writing in plain English. However, it would take over fifty years for Strunk's ideas to become widely accepted. William Strunk Jr. ... The Elements of Style, 2000 edition. ...

George Orwell wrote an important essay on the subject in 1946, entitled Politics and the English Language. Eric Arthur Blair (June 25, 1903 – January 21, 1950), much better known by the pen name George Orwell (pronounced ), was a British author and journalist. ... Politics and the English Language (1946) is one of George Orwells most famous essays. ...

The plain English revolution finally penetrated the fields of law and government during the 1970s, as shown by the passage of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1976, and the popularity of books like Plain English for Lawyers (1979). Law (from the late Old English lagu of probable North Germanic origin) in politics and jurisprudence, is a set of rules or norms of conduct which mandate, forbid or permit specified relationships among people and organizations, intended to provide methods for ensuring the impartial treatment of such people, and provide...

See also

Style guides generally give guidance on language use. ... Basic English is a constructed language with a small number of words created by Charles Kay Ogden and described in his book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930). ... Plain language, or plain English refers to the principle that public information should be written in common English. ... The Plain Language Movement holds regular conferences on eliminating overly complex language from academic, legal and other circles. ...


  • Strunk, William Strunk Jr. & White, E.B. (1918) The Elements of Style, ISBN 020530902X (paperback 4th ed., 2000)
  • Wydick, Richard C. (1979) Plain English for Lawyers Carolina Academic Press, ISBN 1594601518 (paperback 5th ed., 2005)
  • Rook, Fern Slaying the English Jargon (1992) Society for Technical Communication, ISBN 0914548719
  • Cutts, Martin (1996) The Plain English Guide Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198600496
  • Williams, Joseph M. Style, Toward Clarity and Grace (1995) University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226899152

External links

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  Results from FactBites:
What's It Going to Take for You to Use Plain Language? -- Plain Language Association International (1165 words)
Drafting in Plain English sets a lawyer apart from those lawyers unwilling or unable to accept the benefits of plain English drafting.
Those lawyers that learn and use good drafting will attract new clients that are looking for lawyers that use plain English (especially in light of recent SEC rules) or clients that want to understand what they are committing themselves to.
Lawyers who draft in plain English are truly providing a high level of quality service for their clients.
Plain English Campaign - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (393 words)
The Plain English Campaign is a pressure group based in the United Kingdom.
Plain English is defined as "language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading".
They make use of the word gobbledygook to refer to the kind of tortuous and confusing English they are campaigning against, and every year a Golden Bull award is made for the worst example.
  More results at FactBites »



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