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The title “Plain Writing” is a relatively new term for a very old goal of writing teachers around the world. In 1664, the Royal Society of England set up a committee (which included the poet, John Dryden, and the diarist, Samuel Pepys) to recommend ways to improve writing skills. Their advice: writers should aim to achieve “a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expression; clear senses; a native easinesse, bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainnesse, as they can.”
“For more than forty years, I have studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher just what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said…. There are several possible explanations as to why I and others sometimes stumble over an accounting note or indenture description…. Perhaps the most common problem, however, is that a well-intentioned and informed writer simply fails to get the message across to an intelligent, interested reader. In that case, stilted jargon and complex constructions are usually the villain.”