Plain English Movement around the World

In addition to the history of the Plain English Movement in the United States, at this time we can also take a look at the impact it has had in countries such as Canada, Australia and England.


In 1978, the Royal Insurance Company introduced a policy using the Plain English criteria, while in 1979, the Bank of Nova Scotia issued a loan agreement respecting this new trend in the drafting of documents across administrative boundaries.

In 1988, the Plain Language Centre was created within the Canadian Law Information Council. This new agency has published a variety of documents of great interest, for example, Guidelines for Writing, Editing and Designing, where it is recommended to clearly define the subject and object for each verb, avoid using the passive voice and nominalizations, avoid gender confusion, take into account the recipient’s knowledge and avoid legal formalities, among other guidelines.


In 1984, the Law Reform Commission of Victoria encouraged the use of Plain English in legislative and private legal documents. Particular emphasis was placed on the clarity in the organization of texts as well as grammatical structure and terminology.


In 1975, the National Consumer Council was created, followed in 1979 by the foundation of the Plain English Campaign. Of particular note is the work of the University of Reading, which in 1982 prepared a report on government forms in which it stated that most documents contained superfluous structures and were poorly design. As a result, the Forms Information Centre was created.

Several books were written to encourage the use of Plain English. Among the most representative, we can highlight:

– Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense, 1982, David Melinkoff

– The Fundamentals of Legal Drafting, 1986, Reed Dickerson

– A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 1987, Bryan A. Garner

The most important general recommendations that we can take away from this literature are:

* Use the greatest clarity possible;
* Use examples;
* Use easily readable font sizes;
* Leave enough space in the margins;
* Use tables and diagrams;
* Divide the document into sections;
* Place related paragraphs close to each other;
* Sort the content in a logical sequence: the general before the specific, and the ordinary before the extraordinary;
* Omit unnecessary details;
* Include a summary in the first paragraph;
* Assign one idea to each paragraph;
* Use connectors;
* Use short sentences, not more than 25 words;
* Put the subject at the beginning of the sentence and near the verb;
* Preferably use the active voice;
* Use familiar words;
* Avoid repetitions;
* In technical documents for the public, explain specialized terms whose use is unavoidable;
* Prevent abuse of negative constructions;
* Always use the same term to refer to the same concept.

It’s a good idea to use these tips for writing clearly and directly in our translations, regardless of the field.

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