Plain English: where and where not to use?

Subject: Plain English: where and where not to use?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000 09:30:35 -0500

Katherine Birtwhistle wonders: <<Do you feel that Plain English should be
applied to all documentation? documents, newspapers, school books,
literature... If not please could you state which documentation you think it
does apply to.>>

It all depends on what you mean by "plain English". The rule of thumb is
that you must always try to identify the audience you're trying to reach,
what their needs are, and what style of communication will meet those needs.
In some cases, plain English is the way to go: if you're a technical expert
writing for an audience of non-experts. In other cases, you look silly and
communicate inefficiently if you write in plain English: if you're a
technical expert writing for an audience of your peers. So the short answer
is that no, plain English should not be applied to all writing. The long
answer is "it depends".

On an additional note, there's a big difference between "plain English" and
"clear writing". Clear writing is appropriate for all writing except writing
that is intended to make things difficult for your audience. The distinction
I'm making is that correct use of jargon combined with unskilled writing can
make for communication failure even with an expert audience, just as plain
English and unclear writing can fail to communicate successfully with a
non-expert audience. Correct word choice and skill in the use of those words
are both required.

--Geoff Hart, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"The paperless office will arrive when the paperless toilet
arrives."--Matthew Stevens

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