3. Plain English

Plain English is standard American English. Using Plain English “means creating a document that is

  • visually inviting,
  • logically organized, and
  • understandable on the first reading.”

A Plain English Handbook, 65.

Culture is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. …

Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t dream of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple- there must be something wrong with it.

…[T]hese are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.

William Zinsser. On Writing Well. New York: Harper Collins, 1998, 7-8

Good writing comes through revision. How many times should you revise? Successful fiction writer Stephen King says, “For me, the answer has always been two drafts and a polish (with the advent of word-processing technology, my polishes have become closer to a third draft).”1

The best way to write well is to emulate good writing and recognize bad writing. When you see something in a technical report, news story or other article that is easy to understand, save and study it for what makes it remarkable. As King points out, “… we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them.”2

1. On Writing, New York: Scribner, 2000, 208-209.
2. Ibid., 147.

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