December 2014 Bar Bulletin
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Obfuscation? Solution? Write Clearly!

 

Alphabet soup and legalese both contribute to the lack of understanding and misunderstanding of legal documents and correspondence with clients. "Plain English" and "Plain Language" seem to be straightforward solutions, but sitting down to write in plain language is not as simple as it seems. But first, why should we employ plain language writing skills?

In our library we see many people who have difficulty understanding the materials we give them to read. Some of this is due to language barriers. For many of our patrons, English is not their primary language. According to www.writeclearly.org, "Limited English speakers find it particularly difficult to navigate legal texts that contain strange words and describe unfamiliar procedures."

Some people do not have the literacy skills required to read legal materials. WriteClearly.org also notes that "roughly 50% of native English-speaking Americans are unable to read at the 8th grade level." (WriteCearly.org is a website created by Legal Assistance of Western New York, funded in part by a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiatives Grant.)

WriteClearly.org is an excellent source of information and tools to help you make your documents more readable and understandable. It provides a short bibliography of books and links to additional information and has created an app - OpenAdvocate WriteClearly (http://openadvocate.org/writeclearly/) - that you can download for free and use to determine the reading level of your website and receive tips on improving readability. You can also use the beta tool to determine the reading level of existing documents by cutting and pasting them into the document box provided: https://sites.google.com/a/lawny.org/plain-language-library/home/online-plain-language-gadget.

This website along with its links to other services and websites will put you on the "write" path for creating plain language documents.

 

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