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Jargon-busters pick top offenders after 25 years of rewriting history John
Ezard, arts correspondent Monday July 26 2004 The Guardian
The Plain English Campaign today celebrates the anniversary of a mission as
vital, unglamorous and unending as sewage disposal. For a quarter of a
century, it has been struggling to cleanse the muck of jargon and
circumlocution from British official writing.
The campaign was co-founded with the vehemence of a crusade by Chrissie
Maher, a Liverpool woman furious because the official forms she received
were indecipherable. Its combined tactic of public ridicule and backstairs
training for repentant organisations can claim credit for the clearer forms
and leaflets now seen in many health clinics, post offices and government
Yesterday its 7,000 supporters in 80 countries marked the anniversary by
nominating their choicest item of gobbledygook from the last 25 years.
The winner is a sentence from draft national minimum wage regulations
introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.
John Lister, campaign spokesman said: "It shows that even everyday words of
one or two syllables can cause confusion when they are poorly chosen."
The campaign pays its costs by working as a consultant for organisations
eager to improve communication with the public. Its success in this job has
inspired several rivals. Yesterday one of these, Emphasis Training, conceded
that the Plain English Campaign's high-profile crusade had simplified the
way businesses wrote to consumers. "Unfortunately, the same isn't true of
business documents," said Rob Ashton, an Emphasis director. "UK businesses
waste billions every year paying people to write documents that their
colleagues struggle to - or never - read".
Mr Ashton added that an Emphasis survey of 150 companies found they felt an
average of 17% of the documents they received were badly written, with
emails the worst.
Sixty-four per cent of companies cited emails, with end-of-year reports,
letters, web texts and technical language as the next worst offenders.
Faults regarded as most vexing were bad punctuation (34%), bad spelling
(31%), jargon (10%), "generally hard to understand" (16%) and misuse of
words (8%). Unexplained acronyms and unclear technical terms also caused
anger. Emphasis has issued a dictionary of the 131 most misused terms.
Mr Ashton cited a recent company document inviting tenders.
"Description/objective of the contract: to provide evidence on the extent to
which north-west organisation's needs for enhanced and modified skills and
knowledge among their existing adult employees are being met."
The author of the tender document should have written, according to Mr
Ashton: "We want to discover how much employees of companies in the
north-west have improved their skills and knowledge".
An equally bad example was a Department of Health guidance document: "The
aim of this resource pack is to help organisations promote and implement the
use of an HR Leadership Qualities Framework that describes those behaviours
which enhance NHS HR capacity and capability to improve the patient
This should have read, according to Mr Ashton: "This resource pack will help
NHS organisations promote and introduce a Human Resources Leadership
Qualities Framework. The framework will assist NHS HR departments in
improving the patient experience".
He said: "Concise writing means calling a spade a spade, not a manual
1989 National minimum wage regulations
The hours of non-hours work worked by a worker in a pay reference period
shall be the total of the number of hours spent by him during the pay
reference period in carrying out the duties required of him under his
contract to do non-hours work
1989 STC Technology Ltd document
There is an unavoidable conflict of terminology in naming the classes Class
and Instantation. Instantation is not itself a real instance but a class
(namely, the class of all real instances). Likewise, Class is not a class of
real instances but a class of classes (namely, the class of all classes of
real instances). Instantation could be renamed Class and Class renamed Type
to avoid this. In that case, the members of Class would not be classes and
the members of Type would not be types.
1982 letter from the Department of Health and Social Security From and
including 26.2.81 an additional component is payable at the weekly rate of
5p which is the rate appropriate to 11/4% of the amount of the surpluses in
the earnings factors for 3 years in the claimant's working life after
reduction on account of his guaranteed minimum pension of £2.04 (the
guaranteed minimum pension was originally notified to the claimant as
£1.99 and has subsequently been amended to £2.04) (Social Security
Pensions Act 1975 Section 6 and 29 (1) and the Social Security (Earnings
Factor) Regulations reg 2 and the Schedule) and graduated retirement benefit
at the weekly rate of £2.37 (£2.58 from 26.2.81) which is the
amount appropriate to 67 units of graduated contributions paid or treated as
paid by the claimant (National Insurance Act 1965 Section 36 and the Social
Security (Graduated Retirement Benefit) (No.2) Regulations reg 3 (3) and
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