Vox pop – September 2007

Plain English – good business practice or just plain boring?

Lindsay Camp, writer and author of ‘Can I Change Your Mind?’

“As ever, it depends how the words are interpreted. If we take Plain English to be the opposite of the kind of language that tries to impress or even deceive readers by means of impenetrable jargon or self-important corporate verbiage, then we can all agree it’s a good thing. But it worries me a bit that some people may understand the phrase to mean austere, unadorned, drained of colour, free from any form of wit or verbal playfulness – all things that can help to make our writing engaging or even enjoyable to read.”

Freddie Baveystock, Managing Consultant – Brand, Rufus Leonard

“Plain English is a misnomer. There’s nothing plain or boring about good simple English – witness the impact of a poem like ‘The Trees’ by Philip Larkin, or ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. Or, for that matter, any number of limericks, hymns and terrace chants. Sadly few businesses commission poets or comedians to craft their language. Many, on the other hand, have tried to take on Innocent’s tonality of refreshing simplicity, only to fall flat on their faces. So the answer to this question has to be ‘Neither’. Plain talking doesn’t always deliver compelling truth; but nothing beats it when it does.”

Dan Radley, Start Creative

“I’ve just discovered the Pirate Translator at www.talklikeapirate.com/translator.html which is far more fun than Plain English, so from now on I’m going to talk like this. Ahaarrrrr! Them plain li’l words can be interestin’ in combinations but I’ve always found fruity language appeals more t’ comely wenches. In business, sayin’ somethin’ memorable be a cost-effective way for you t’ achieve cut-through. Aye. So I’m all for whatever gets t’ job done, me hearties. Accessibility Managers? Keelhaul ’em.”

Lisa Desforges, Interbrand

“Plain is a pretty ambiguous word for an organisation so dedicated to precision. Just think of all those easily confused readers who might mistake the PECers for advocates of ordinariness rather than coveters of clarity! But seriously, do I want my words to be understandable? Of course. Do I want them benchmarked against an external quality standard with a Crystal Mark logo stamped at the end of every paragraph? Hell no.”

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