An image of a blue box of white tissues against a yellow background.I’m always on the lookout for examples of good and bad writing, and you’ll find plenty out in the world. Here are some of the articles recently shared online, all related to plain language and getting rid of jargon and lawyer-speak.

Plain language is all about helping your readers find what they need, understand what they find and use what they find to meet their needs.

Jargon, of course, is not plain language. In fact, it’s one way companies make it harder for people to understand their messages – sometimes deliberately so. For example, here’s what Kimberly-Clark said about pulling its famous Kleenex brand tissues out of Canada last year:

“We have been operating in a highly constrained supply environment, and despite our best efforts we have been faced with some unique complexities on the Kleenex business,” the official announcement said.

Hmm, what could that mean? “Profits are thin,” said one analyst. My translation: “We’re not making enough.”

Then there is the complicated, lengthy gobbledygook often used by lawyers.

The widely used “Including but not limited to” is one of my pet peeves. (It’s redundant. “Including” already means there are other options not on the list.) Josh Bernoff suggests if you don’t want to sound like a lawyer, don’t write like you’re writing a contract.

And about those contracts: Apparently, even lawyers prefer contracts written in plain language, according to a study reported in 2023. Like most of us, they both prefer and better understand simplified texts.

Still, legal contracts are famous for lengthy, dense, confusing sentences. The Bicycle Company is a fantastic example of the opposite, with a rental contract done light, right and readable; pointed to by my colleague Charlotte Davis. It starts off with this refreshing summary:

I understand riding a bike can be a fabulous and rewarding experience. I also understand that good things can happen while I am in possession of this rental bike, but bad things can also happen to me, my stuff, other people, and other people’s stuff.” 

Professor Joe Kimble is doing his best to make legal writing clear. “Plain language lays bare all the confusion and uncertainty and ambiguity that dense prose tends to hide,” he says.

Health care is another area that would benefit from plain language. Here’s a piece that says doctors and nurses should use more of it, saying clearly the patient’s main problem, what they need to do and why; from University College Cork, Ireland, via Conscious Style Guide.

Support for plain language comes from sometimes surprising places, like the government.

“When you want to communicate a specific message to your audience, it’s important to use clear, simple language,” says the government of Canada. See examples of simpler words in this short quiz.

In the U.S., too, the government promotes the use of plain language. Use the 2022 Federal Plain Language Report Card to check how they judged web pages on their use of plain language (or not), why they did well and where they went wrong.

You’ll find authors among the fans of simple, plain language.

“The magic [in writing] happens when prose has one or more of these characteristics: It’s simple, specific, surprising, stirring, seductive, smart, social, or story-­driven,” says Bill Birchard in this flashback in Harvard Business Review.

Advice on writing from C.S. Lewis includes “Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one.” I was gratified to see the hated “implement” and “socialize” among the words called out as words to be weeded out.

What other helpful or interesting posts have you found online? Please share in the comments or drop me a note.

Tissue box by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.

Related reading:
Fall links, all about writing
Word choice, jargon and plain language links from 2022
My first post with links you might have missed, including an interview about plain language