How to Replace Jargon and Legalese in Plain English Writing
Every plain English document has two important traits in common:
1. it does not contain jargon;
2. it does not contain legalese.
To write in plain English, use short, common words to convey your points. In instances where you can't explain a difficult concept in plain English, define what the term means when you first use it.
If you are in the financial or legal industry, you may find it hard to spot jargon and legalese in your writing. Ask someone outside the industry to check your work for incomprehensible words.
Last, don't use acronyms or other words to create new jargon that's unique to your document. It's asking too much of your readers to memorize new vocabulary while they are trying to grasp complicated concepts.
Occasionally, you may need to assign a shorter word to a long proper noun and use this word throughout the document. In these instances, try to choose a word that has an intuitive, logical relationship to the one it's replacing. This reduces the number of new words or phrases the reader needs to understand.
Choose the simpler synonym
Soften complex ideas with short, common words. For example, use end instead of terminate, explain rather than elucidate, and use instead of utilize. When a shorter, simpler synonym exists, use it.
Keep the subject, verb, and object close together
Short, simple sentences enhance the effectiveness of short, common words. To be clear, your sentences must have a sound structure. Here are a few ways to do it.
The natural word-order of English speakers is subject-verb-object. Following this order as closely as possible will make your sentences clearer. In documents, this order is frequently interrupted by modifiers.
Vacationers with season show passes will be entitled to receive a free beverage on any Friday at the Trump Show Plaza, on any show after 8 PM.
The Trump Show Plaza offers a free beverage on any Friday show after 8 PM to vacationers with season show passes.
Vacationers with season show passes can receive a free beverage on any show after 8 PM on Fridays at the Trump Show Plaza.
The following description of the particular terms of the interest rates offered hereby in this document supplements, and to the extent inconsistent therewith replaces, the description of the general terms of the Credit Card Securities Act set forth in the Prospectus, to which description reference is hereby made.
This document describes the terms of interest rates in greater detail than our prospectus, and may provide information that differs from our prospectus. If the information does differ, please call our 1-800 number.
By tradition, government and legal writing is so loaded with status-seeking or "big ego" technical jargon that average readers seldom see much in it except the author's self-fascination. Take this bit of "shop talk" for example:
Temperature is a most important factor in determining the ecological optimum and limits of crop growth, and therefore the agricultural exploitation of our water and soil resources.
Like precipitation measurements, temperature is probably measured within the present accuracy of our knowledge of temperature effects on resource utilization, and provides us with a standard measurement which can be linked empirically or theoretically to specific environmental applications.
We didn't find one person who fully understood what the weather-expert-author meant. The writer wasted all those big words. Technical jargons are common to almost every trade and profession. At times it seems that each vie with the others to attain a superior height of complexity. Even specialists within a single field are often baffled by the jargon of their cohorts. The outsider (the average person) is completely lost. The following sample is proof enough; see if it doesn't make you go nuts reading it:
The appropriate concepts of cost and gain depend upon the level of optimization, and the alternative policies that are admissible. This appropriate level of optimization and the alternatives that should be compared depend in part on the search for a suitable criterion.
This excerpt is typical of jargon in a technical report. When we advised the author to rewrite it in simple language that all of us could understand, he complained that he couldn't do it. But he did it, after much agony and many rewrites. And it was simple language when he got through.
Technical jargon is not always bad. For example, technicians working closely together in the same narrow field can use accurate technical language. But technical language is dangerous to communicate with technicians in other fields or with the general public.
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