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What's New in the Plain Language Movement

by Cheryl Stephens

This article was inspired by a talk given by Dominique Joseph to the Editors Association of Canada. The handout is here:
http://icclear.net/whats-new-in-2012 .

The current plain language movement dates back more than 20 years, but the team players have changed. Today the movement is international and multilingual. And several nonprofit associations are pushing the agenda forward.

Here are a few:
  • Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN) sponsors a bi-annual conference. I will host the next one in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in mid-October 2013. Their website is PlainLanguageNetwork.org .
  • Plain Language Network serves a leadership role in the US government civil service. Their website is PlainLanguage.gov .
  • The Center for Plain Language, based in Washington, DC, lobbied the US Congress until finally the Plain Language Writing Act was passed. Visit them at CenterforPlainLanguage.org for more about the law.
  • The Plain Language Advocates Group on LinkedIn provides frequent news, identifies research developments, and discusses issues big and small. Join at http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Plain-Language-Advocates-158634 .
  • Clarity is an association of lawyers and others who support plain language in the law. Clarity regularly publishes the journal, Clarity. Papers from a recent conference can be tracked via www.Clarity-International.net .
  • International Plain Language Day is celebrated every October 13 by activists all over the globe. There will be a virtual program in 2013. Learn about this event at IPLDay.org .

The Center for Plain Language, Plain Language Association InterNational, and Clarity created the International Plain Language Working Group and has been investigating ways to work together to advance plain language work. You can read their initial recommendations as published in the journal, Clarity. This is their working definition of plain language:

“A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find, understand and use what they need.”

A new European-Union-funded program, IC Clear (International Consortium for Clear Communication), will develop and pilot the modules of a postgraduate course in clear communication. The course will be a mix of plain language, information design, and usability techniques. Simon Fraser University in Canada will design an online module.

IC Clear (ICClear.net ) has adopted a working definition that says:

"In a clear document, whether online or in print, people for whom the information is intended can:
  • quickly and easily find what they need
  • understand what they find
  • act appropriately on that understanding
Whether communication is ‘clear’ or not depends on the audience.
What is clear for one person may not be clear for another."


Karen Schriver, consultant and academic, recently presented the summation of 20 years of research in support of plain language guidelines. Find it at http://www.clarity-international.net/conferencepapers2012.html .

Thomas Cooley Law School professor Joe Kimble has published his latest book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. He provides a history and explains the cost-savings from using plain language. See the table of contents here: http://tinyurl.com/cy3l7g2 .

And I have published the first plain language manual intended for college-level courses, called Plain Language in Plain English. Learn more about it at PlainLanguageInPlainEnglish.com .



Cheryl Stephens has worked in plain language for more than 20 years. She was a cofounder of PLAIN and of International Plain Language Day. She is currently the managing director of Community Plain Language Services Corps. Her books are published at PlainLanguageWizardry.com .



Page last modified on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 09:08:39am EDT
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