The importance of plain language

“To leverage our revenue stream we propose facilitating a range of pro-active synergies leading to a paradigm shift in our consumer deliverables.”

Okay I made that one up, but how often have you seen similar language on websites or in corporate brochures? And let’s not kid ourselves this kind of misuse of the English language isn't confined to corporations – some of the worst offenders are public sector bodies and quangos.

Of course, this is a well-worn route. Management-speak is constantly being derided, named and shamed – not least by Private Eye – yet its practitioners seem undeterred.

So why do it? I think part of the reason is a misconception that using virtually unintelligible language sounds dynamic and clever. It’s also a lot easier to write than plain English, because real meaning is obscured through jargon, word-misuse and vague phrases. There is no need for commitment.

As soon as you write in plain English you run the risk of somebody actually understanding what you are talking about.

For example, the phrase at the top would roughly translate as “To make more money we are working together to sell a much better range of products.” That’s a pretty big promise of course, and now that people can understand what is being said, actions need to be taken.

The truth is that plain English is most effective when a business or organisation is working well and acting positively. Then you only have to tell it like it is. As soon as I encounter management-speak I have to first question whether there isn’t something fundamentally flawed at the heart of it all. Why are they trying to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes?

Yet of course it’s usually nothing that sinister at all. For a freelance copywriter, it’s often just a question of digging into the bad language to find the good intentions. The job then is to make your client surprised at how much more dynamic they can sound if things are expressed simply but powerfully.