In Plain Language - How Writers Write Can Help You

Writers Write provides plain language services for companies. 

Plain Language Legislation – What does it mean?

South Africa has legislation to balance power between those who provide products and services, and citizens who receive them. Readers must understand why a document is important, why it is necessary to sign it, and what the consequences of signing it imply. Consumers, as defined in the act, have average literacy skills. This means they are neither illiterate nor learned. Consumers must appreciate and understand the risks and obligations of entering into any verbal or written arrangement.

How can we help you?

By hiring a team of professional editors and writers, you ensure that your communications are clear, concise and up-to-date. The Writers Write Team will assist you with your needs according to Plain Language guidelines.

What we do

We provide three services: editing, writing, training. 

  1. Our editing in plain language services are for reviewing and editing your business documents, in house magazines, promotional features, presentations, style guides, and website content. 
  2. Our writing in plain language services include reviewing and rewriting content for your publications. These include brochures, newsletters, business proposals, progress reports, and promotional materials.
  3. Our training in plain language services train your staff to communicate in plain language. Our well-established Plain Language Programme is available if you want this option.

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

The right to information in plain language

 

The Consumer Protection Act in South Africa has changed business and industry. It has even made provisions for documents to be written in clear and understandable English.

In terms of the Act, consumers have nine basic rights. 

1. Right to equality in the consumer market and protection against discriminatory marketing practices.

2. Right to privacy.

3. Right of choice.

4. Right of disclosure and information (this includes the right to information in plain and understandable language).

5. Right to fair and responsible marketing.

6. Right to fair and honest dealings.

7. Right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions.

8. Right to fair value, good quality and safety.

9. Right to accountability of suppliers.  

Writers Write offers business writing training in plain and understandable language. Our next course runs from 22-25 July in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Email news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

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

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. 

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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