How to lose an election

In Scotland in 2007 the government changed hands because of unclear instructions on how to complete ballot papers.

Experts predicted trouble but politicians pressed on regardless. Many voters misread the instructions on the ballot papers. Some voters completed the ballot papers as they had in previous elections. A total of 147,000 ballot papers (4%) were spoilt and rejected. In some constituencies this resulted in a majority for some political parties. 

The governing party was defeated by a single seat. The 4% of destroyed ballot papers could have led to a different result in the election. 

Source: Oxford guide to plain English by Martin Cutts, Oxford University Press   

By Michele van Eck 

She has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

For information on The Plain Language Programme offered by Writers Write, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Why plain language is popular

Plain language works.
People prefer to understand what they’re reading.
Communicating in language that is understandable shows respect to your reader.

There is a misconception that plain language is the process of “dumbing down” language. This is not the case. The message is not less effective because of plain language. In fact, plain language allows better understanding. Plain language is communicating with the reader in mind. It gets the message across quickly and effectively. 

The effectiveness of your communication will increase if you:-

1. put yourself in the shoes of your reader; and

2. assume the reader doesn’t know anything of the subject matter. 

Article Source  

By Michele van Eck. Michele is the Plain Language Legal Expert for Writers Write.

She is an admitted attorney with more than five years working experience in the legal and corporate environment.

She has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM.

With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

For information on The Plain Language Programme offered by Writers Write, email news@writerswrite.co.za 

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

How to Write Terms and Conditions

How many of us understand the terms and conditions in documents? 

The clarity in legal documents can be improved by:  

1. Using pronouns, for example: I, we, you.
2. Removing ‘doublets’, for example: “rules and regulations” or “accepts and agrees”.
3. Removing extra words.
4. Using shorter sentences.
5. Using vertical lists.  

The following paragraph is from the terms and conditions of a South African telecommunication company. Is it in plain language? Do you understand it? 

“The subscriber accepts and agrees that these terms and conditions will become binding on it once on the Commencement Date, that is, once the Company has processed the Application Form and agreed to provide the Subscriber with the selected Mobile Service and the Selected Mobile Goods., which is known as the Commencement Date. In other words the agreement will commence on the Commencement Date.” 

We made some changes using plain language principles. Do you understand this version? 

You agree to these terms and conditions. You will be bound to these terms and conditions from the Commencement Date. The Commencement Date will start when we have:

1. processed your application form; and
2. agreed to provide you with the goods and services you have selected. 

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By Michele van Eck, Writers Write Consultant 

Michele has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Eight Factors that influence Plain Language

The National Credit Act, Companies Act and Consumer Protection Act have some guidelines for Plain Language. These will determine if your document is in plain language. 

They are:

  • The content of the document. What does the document say?
  • The level of comprehension of the document. What does your audience understand when reading the document?
  • The consistency of information. Is the information in the document used in a uniform and consistent manner?
  • The organisation and style of the document. Is the lay-out of the document easy to understand?
  • The vocabulary used. Would your audience be able to understand the language you used in the document?
  • The sentence structure. Are sentences short, concise and easy to read?
  • Headings. Did you use headings to help guide your audience through the document?
  • Illustrations and visual aids. Did you use any illustrations or diagrams to assist your audience in understanding the document?

Source: "Guidelines to writing in Plain Language" De Rebus July 2012

By Michele van Eck, Writers Write Consultant 

Michele has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law).

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Are e-toll terms and conditions written in plain language?

In Plain Language? 

Some areas that create confusion in the document:

  1. There are 26 defined terms which makes the document difficult to understand.
  2. The use of acronyms like “ANPR” (automatic number plate recognition technology”, TCH (transaction clearing house), VLN (motor vehicle license plate number) and VPC (violations processing centre).
  3. The use of legalese.
  4. Using passive voice.
  5. Long and complicated sentences. 

Applying plain language will improve the clarity of the document. 

Examples:  

5. As a registered user, the user will be billed and will be liable for toll transactions recorded according to the user’s VLN or its e-tag.” 

In Plain Language: You must pay toll fees for your vehicle’s licence plate number or e-tag. 

6.6. The user understands and agrees that its liability to incur toll arises when its motor vehicle passes a tolling point. The amount of toll is calculated with reference to the tolling point and not with reference to kilometres travelled before the user reached the tolling point.” 

In Plain Language: You must pay the toll fee. The toll fee is determined when you pass a tolling point. The kilometres you travel do not determine the toll fee. 

By Michele van Eck

Michele has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law).

If you want to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

Writing in Plain Language means Treating Customers Fairly

Discover how easy it is to write in plain language. Discover how simple it is to write in a reader-friendly style.

Writers Write offers a comprehensive business writing programme with emphasis on plain language as defined in the Consumer Protection Act, The National Credit Act, The New Companies Act and the Treating Customers Fairly guidelines.

We cover syntax, spelling and grammar across releases, web copy, features, interviews, newsletters, email and more.

If you choose to train with The Plain Language Programme, you achieve three results.  

  1. You have trained writers. Clear writing is crucial for commercial success in the 21st Century.
  2. Your employees will write according to plain language legislation. This saves you time and money.
  3.  You develop a One Voice concept for internal communications. This allows staff, across departments, to understand one another.

Why choose us?

The Plain Language Programme runs over four days from 9am to 1pm. The course is interactive with written exercises every 20 to 30 minutes to reinforce the theory shared in class. We also limit the classes to 10 delegates to ensure participation and information retention. We are able to tailor the course to suit a company’s needs for groups of ten or more.

Your staff members acquire a priceless life skill. Clear writing opens worlds of opportunity.

We cover:

  • Email Etiquette
  • Writing techniques that market and promote 
  • Grammar - including active voice, phrase-free sentences and basic punctuation 

We include:

  • A Plain Language Style Guide 
  • The 20 Most Important Words in Business, Readability Statistics, and The Rule of Three
  • Structures for newsletters, press release templates, interview techniques 

Amanda Patterson On Writing by Amanda Patterson

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If you want to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

Plain Language is a Democratic Right

The article, Around the world in plain words, explains that one of the failures in using plain language stems from government. 

The continued use of garbled and unclear language in legislation creates uncertainty. Problems arise around issues of interpretation. The article says that the ability to understand what is being communicated, in particular from government to its citizens, is a democratic right. 

In South Africa, legislation like the Consumer Protection Act has obliged businesses to use plain language when communicating with their customers. 

Communication remains at the heart of our changing society. Whether the message is being exchanged between two people, or numerous countries, it must start with language that is familiar to, and appropriate for the intended audience.” 

Source: The European Policitcal Newspaper, “Around the world in plain words” by Marie Clair (Plain English Campaign) http://www.neurope.eu/blog/around-world-plain-words 8 April 2012. 

By Michele van Eck, Writers Write Consultant 

Michele has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

If you want to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

Plain Language - Know your Audience

There is a misconception about plain language. People think it's merely about replacing complicated words with simple ones. 

It also includes the careful study of your intended audience, and moulding the communication to ensure that it is understood.  

Here are some aspects to consider about your audience: 

  1. Age: The average age of your audience will influence how easily your message is read and understood.
  2. Education: The education of your audience will influence the use of jargon, industry specific terminology and the level of language in your communication. For example, the language used between doctors will be very different to the language used between a doctor and a patient.
  3. Literacy Level: The average literacy level of your target audience will affect their ability to understand your message.
  4. Language: The manner in which you mould your communication will be influenced by whether English is your audience’s first, second or even third language. 

By Michele van Eck, Writers Write Consultant 

She is an admitted attorney with more than five years working experience in the legal and corporate environment. She has a BComm in business management and law, as well as an LLB and an LLM. With specialized qualifications in corporate and contractual law, Michele writes for De Rebus and has co-authored articles for TSAR (a journal for South African law). 

If you want to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

~~~~~

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate