Three ways that plain language is a social good

Rhiannon Davies | September 30, 2021

We’ve recently become a Certified B Corp. We’ve joined a community of organisations committed to using business for good in the wider world. Plain language plays an extensive role in social good and keeps the world fair.

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Plain language helps governing bodies show they’re trustworthy

Transparency builds trust. When governments use plain language in their policies and laws, vague or confusing language is removed. This means that there’s no legalese to hide loopholes. No loopholes means all citizens have equal access to information about things that matter to their lives.

In some countries government corruption is a major problem. Transparency International ranks 13 percent of countries in the world below 20 percent on its Corruption Perceptions Index. (New Zealand is one of the two least-corrupt countries with a score of 88 percent.) It’s much harder to bend laws when they are precise and easy to understand.

Image, CPI map of the world from Transparency International's website

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Aotearoa New Zealand highlighted in blue. Image from Transparency International / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Transparency International has created a plain language guide for governments to use in their policy documents. The guide defines positions and actions normally found in an ethical government, along with links for further reading.

Download Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide from its website

Plain language means vulnerable people get the help they need

Using plain language is a no-brainer. For any document that could be legally binding, the only ethical choice is to make information as accessible as possible so everyone can understand it and act on it.

When people are vulnerable, their ability to understand information and act on it plummets. And we can all be vulnerable at different times of our lives and for different reasons. We may be:

When times are hard, plain language can make all the difference in the world. Knowing what help is available and how to get it can depend on how well writers have thought about the needs of readers. It can be the difference between life and death.

Image, homeless person reading a book on a nest of newspapers

People experiencing homelessness may not have high literacy. Plain language helps them understand what they need to do to get help. Image by Dynamic Wang / Unsplash licence

Plain language helps progress medical and social research

Medical and social research might be the last place you’d expect to find plain language. It should be the first place. If the researcher can’t explain what their idea does and how it works, it’ll remain just that — an idea.

Researchers need to be able to tell funders the purpose and benefits of their work. They need to tell funders:

Funders are far more likely to donate money, time, or equipment to a project if they can see what their resources will do.

Funders are very unlikely to be a part of the research community. Using jargon that would work fine in the lab or with other researchers will only confuse funders. Confused funders are rarely generous ones.

Image, a vial of COVID-19 vaccine being held by a blue-gloved hand

What would have happened if the people researching the COVID vaccines couldn’t properly explain what they were doing? Image by Hakan Nural / Unsplash licence

How we can help you with plain language

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