A History of Plain Language in Government Communications
President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (.pdf) on October 13, 2010. The law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”
On January 18, 2011, President Obama issued a new Executive Order, “E.O. 13563 – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review. (.pdf). It states that “[our regulatory system] must ensure that regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”
Two other executive orders signed by President Clinton in 1996 cover the use of plain language in regulations: E.O. 12866 (.pdf) and E.O. 12988 (.pdf).
The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from government. In the 1990s they started giving examples for Federal plain language guidelines. This evolved into the PlainLanguage.gov website. For information about PlainLanguage.gov, see their About Us page.
Download PL.gov's Federal Plain Language Guidelines (.pdf) or Word.
South African consumers can look forward to plain language in all consumer documents – the South African Consumer Protection Act became law April 24, 2009. The act "makes plain language a basic right and a business obligation." This impressive news is on the site for Plain Language Around the World.
The news article goes on to say that in two months time – on April 24 – "the National Consumer Commission must be established and the regulations will come into operation. Six months later, the rest of the Act will take effect." The article provides additional sources you can read.
The Clear Language @ Work site links to an article about the impact of the Consumer Protection Act on insurance, where I found one sentence that I wanted to share:
Insurers will not be allowed to take advantage of the fact that the consumer is unable to understand the terms of the contract being concluded with it as a result of either physical or mental disability, illiteracy, ignorance or inability to understand the language of the contract.
Reading this as a consumer is bliss. No more intimidating piles of papers to read through – and not understand. Reading this as a technical communicator, it feels like justification for years of that gut feeling that you should always be able to write in the clear language your audience demanded. It puts value back into clear writing. I'll bet South African consumers value this news, too.
We've reported plain language news before, especially concerning United States legislation. It's great to learn about efforts in other countries. To keep up with news about plain language, visit Plain Language Association InterNational and Clear Language @ Work.
While visiting the Clear Language @ Work site, be sure to pick up your complimentary Clear/Plain Language Writing Principles Checklist and Clear Design Chart in the sidebar on the front page.