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Should official forms use less jargon?

The National Adult Literacy Agency is calling on the Government to produce documents in ‘plain English’.

Shutterstock-94941589 Source: Confused Man/Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD make more of an effort to provide all public information in plain English, according to the National Adult Literacy Agency.

NALA said that a recent survey it conducted found that 95% of respondents approve of such a move, noting that almost half (48%) find official documents, including information from the Government, difficult to understand.

Respondents also said that they sometimes find jargon, terms and conditions, and financial information challenging.

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The NALA petition had been signed by over 550 people at the time of publication. The organisation is hoping to reach 5,000 signatures.

The document calls for public information such as letters, forms and information leaflets to be written in 'plain English'. This means:

  • Using everyday words where possible
  • Explaining specialised terms if they can’t be avoided
  • Keeping sentences to about 15-20 words
  • Using a readable font type and size

Example

Here's an example of a standard hire purchase contract term before and after its content has been changed into 'plain English':

Before: Title to property in the goods shall remain vested in the Company (notwithstanding the delivery of the same to the Customer) until the price of the Goods comprised in the contract and all other money due from the Customer to the Company on any other account has been paid in full.

After:We will own the goods until you have finished paying for them.

NALA Director, Inez Bailey, said that "both citizens and governments benefit from clear information, written in plain English".

"Citizens are more likely to understand their rights and governments are more likely to make better use of their resources.

Using plain English can also save the public sector time, money and possible frustration by having to take repeated requests for information.

Last year Britain’s civil servants were banned from using certain jargon, such as: 'slimming down'; 'foster' and 'deploy'.

Read: One-in-10 Irish children can’t read properly when leaving school

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Órla Ryan

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