Thursday, 5 September 2013

Plain English

I posted yesterday about the Design Principles adopted by the GDS. Well, I've also been shown the content principles, and in particular a list of banned words if you want to write in plain English. Here's a few - see how many you regularly use in web pages or other comms - it's quite scary -  I'm very guilty.....

agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
collaborate (use ‘working with’)
commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
deploy (unless it is military or software)
dialogue (we speak to people)
disincentivise (and incentivise)
drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
drive out (unless it is cattle)
facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
foster (unless it is children)
going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
impact (as a verb)
in order to (superfluous – don’t use it)
key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
leverage (unless in the financial sense)
one-stop shop (we're not a retail outlet)
progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)t
slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork, etc)
strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
tackling (unless it is rugby, football or some other sport)
transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)


George Credland said...

"Game changer" is the phrase that gets me. Its rarely a game.

Dave Fox, The Word Centre said...

While these lists of 'banned words' are useful, avoiding them is only part of writing in plain English. The style guide has scattered through it quite a few good pieces of advice for writing clearly:
- use active verbs
- use 'you' to involve the reader
- use short sentences
- be concise
... and so on.

Plain English covers all these things (and more), but unfortunately all that the guide lists under that heading is the list of banned words. Fine for journalists looking for a story, but less helpful to staff who would have benefited from a concise roundup of what plain English actually means.

Dave Fox
The Word Centre

Azadeh Madanian Mohammadi said...

I agree with plain English but as a bilingual person that English is not my first language, I wish that everyone uses plain English (verbal communication as well as written communication, emails etc..) regardless.

Thanks Chris, it was very interesting