Writing and editing in plain English

Book cover of the Oxford Guide to Plain English
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As an editor of government and corporate information, I am regularly required to edit material which has been written with little thought for the reader or the end-user. Often littered with industry jargon, legalese and acronyms, applying the principles of plain English to the material serves to make the information meaningful and easy to read and understand.

Simplifying instructions, guidelines, processes and reports so they can be read, clearly understood and used by people to undertake an action requires the skill and talent of plain English writing and editing.

The Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts is a not only a great plain English reference book but also fun to read. Cutts makes the point that the book’s focus is on writing essential information for business and government letters, emails, and reports as well as contracts, labels and product instructions. However the tips and plain English word lists are a handy resource for any writer or editor

Cutts has based his book on a list of 25 guidelines with a chapter devoted to each. Most of these would be quite obvious to seasoned editors and writers, but are not always put into practice and some are harder to apply to our writing than others.

Cutts’ 25 guidelines are divided into five categories covering the following:
• Style and grammar
• Preparing and planning
• Organising the information
• Management of Writing
• Plain English for specific purposes
• Layout
• Proofreading

The plain word lists and practical guides in Cutts’ book are useful and his anecdotal real-life examples of before and after information edited using the principles of plain English throughout the book make it an entertaining read. The Oxford Guide to Plain English won’t be wasted in your collection.

Cutts M, Oxford Guide to Plain English, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-966917-2.

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