“Why not just use simple, direct, easy-to-understand language?”
Jargon in the professions is all right when speaking to peers, but it’s a bane when used in public communication – it often obfuscates rather than clarifies. Why not just use simple, direct, easy-to-understand language?
This is the advocacy of University of Santo Tomas professor Dr. Rachelle B. Lintao, chair of the Department of English, who recently conducted a webinar on the topic.
Lintao, who is also the country representative of Clarity, an international organization that promotes the use of plain language in legal documents, writes: “Plain language puts the reader at the center— all the information provided in a document including the tone, style, and even design all help knowing that one is writing for the reader. The reader or audience here may be a single or multiple readers, a particular age group, or even professionals, busy people or even those with high or low reading skills.”
She adds that “Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid has recently filed a bill requiring the use of plain language in government-issued advisories, notices and other similar documents for public dissemination and distribution.
“This Senate Bill (SB) No. 1911 filed in the 18th Congress is a welcome development in fully attaining our fundamental right to information as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution— not just accessing these documents but guaranteeing clear communication in these information obtained.
“Plain language is defined as a “communication in which the wording, structure, and design are so clear that intended readers can easily: find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information” (Plain Language Association International, 2016).”
Plain language is not baby talk, Dr. Lintao explains. It is not “dumbing down the information,” nor is it the “deliberate oversimplification or trivializing of a meaningful information that can even create imprecision.”
She cites Thomas Cooley Law School professor Joe Kimble as having refuted this “myth” by explaining that “plain language means clear and effective writing for the intended audience. Transforming a document into plain language requires skill, diligence, and patience to be able to clarify complexities and uncover unclear or ambiguous meanings which intricate, dense and impersonal writings tend to hide.”
Lapid’s bill is not the first of its kind. In the 16th Congress, (2010-2013), Lintao writes, “SB No. 1092 or the Plain Writing for Public Service Act of 2013 was filed by Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares on July 24, 2013. It sought for the obligatory use of plain language in all government documents and pushed for the use of “simple, concise, easily understandable words and phrases in all government documents”, aimed at “avoiding jargon, redundancy, ambiguity and obscurity” and intended to “help the citizens in availing of government services.””
This was followed by SB 1733, the People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013. Section 20 of that bill, according to Dr. Lintao, “proposed the different government agencies’ use of plain language that would include translating key provisions and information into different major Filipino languages as regards different transactions or information such as “communication orders, compliance, requirements or instructions issued to implement the provisions of the Act.”
Lintao adds that in the 15th Congress, two senate and two house bills were filed. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed SB 1770 (Plain Language in Health Insurance Act) and SB 1859 (Plain Language Act, required government documents issued to the public be written “clearly and in plain language”), and two bills were filed in the Lower House — House Bill (HB) No. 34 or the Plain Language Law of 2010 by Rep. Rene Relampagos, and another bill requiring the use of Plain Language in Insurance Policies by Rep. Narciso D. Santiago III.
“Unfortunately,” Lintao says, “none of the these bills were approved beyond the committee level [perhaps] due to the lack of priority afforded by the lawmakers to these kinds of bills.”
She also points out that “advocates of plain language recognize the iterative process of developing content to meet people’s needs. Plain language also focuses on the products that are designed to help people achieve their communications goals like understanding, following procedures, decision-making, evaluating risk and the like.
“It is also important to emphasize that user-testing or feedback is crucial in plain language in guaranteeing that concerns people may have with their communication are addressed.”
She concludes: “Considering the Filipinos in general, and in particular, the experts and novice readers, the old and young, professionals and students, the lawyers and the lay people who will benefit from plain language, it is time to support the plain language bill and advocate not just access to information but clear and comprehensible information.”
In view of all the studies that have come out showing the Philippines at the bottom of a heap of other countries when it comes to reading comprehension, Lintao’s suggestion to use plain language becomes even more timely and relevant.
*** Where are the missing Philhealth billions? We haven’t forgotten about them.
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