History of Plain English

  1. United Kingdom:

Modern Plain English campaign started in United Kingdom in the year 1979 by Chrissie Maher ,one of the greatest pioneers in Plain English campaign along with Martin Cutts who himself is a hero in the Plain English campaign.
Land owner’s agreements, Insurance policies and other day to day documents were made easily understandable by translating them to Plain English.

  1. United States :

The modern Plain Language movement started in US in 1970s.In 1978, President Jimmy Carter issued  exceutive  orders, intended to  make government regulations,"cost-effective and easy-to-understand by those who were required to comply with them"

On, JUNE 1, 1998, President Bill Clinton said in his, memorandum on Plain Language in Government writing:

The Federal Government's writing must be in plain language. By using plain language, we send a clear message about what the Government is doing, what it requires, and what services it offers. Plain language saves the Government and the private sector time, effort, and money.

Plain language requirements vary from one document to another, depending on the intended audience. Plain language documents have logical organization, easy-to-read design features, and use:

  • common, everyday words, except for necessary technical terms:
  • "you" and other pronouns:
  • the active voice; and
  • Short sentences.

In 1998, U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s Chairman Arthur Levitt said “we need to start writing disclosure documents in a language investors can understand i.e. Plain English.” He is one of the pioneers of Plain Language movement in U.S.
A Plain English Hand bookHow to create clear SEC disclosure documents” brought under his leadership in the year 1998, remains an excellent resource on plain language writing even today.

President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, on October 13, 2010. The Act requires that federal agencies use, "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”.

The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.

Professor Joseph Kimble, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Michigan is another pioneer in Plain Language movement in U.S.

In his book ‘Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please’, he explains by using Plain English:

  1. How US Federal Communications Commission managed to reduce telephonic enquiries and reassigned 5 employees which means saving of 5 person’s full time work.
  2. How US Navy would save between $27million to $37 million worth of time* each year if its officers routinely read plain writing and the list continues.( *Time, is based on the number of man-hours saved and the subsequent labor charges)
  1. New Zealand: ‘Standards of Integrity and Conduct’ code (click to view the code) is one of the best examples of Plain English law in New Zealand. It uses ‘we’ instead of ‘every person’ and also speaks, directly and simply.

        It sayswe must act with a spirit of service to the community and meet the same high standards of integrity and conduct in everything we do.’
Other laws in Plain English include, Local Government Act 2002, Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 and the list continues.

Other countries practicing Plain English or Plain Language include Canada, Australia, Sweden, South Africa and the list continues.

Come join us in making “Plain English campaign” in India. You may post your works in our website ‘Forum’ page.