15 April 2012 Jay Shepherd

Why paperwork feels like paperwork

Blame the lawyers:

Why would it be harder to write a regulation in plain language than in complex jargon? In part, points out Braley, it’s because of the job a regulation needs to do: taking a law that Congress has passed and “dealing with the fine-tuning . . . putting into words how certain conduct is supposed to be governed.” That means a regulation carries a heavier burden than other writing that government agencies produce, like forms and letters. “The lawyers get their hands on them and want to make sure that they’re absolutely foolproof as far as going to court is concerned,” said Cheek.

Nice piece by Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Sunday Globe on the attempt to bring plain English to government regulations.

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Comments (3)

  1. Accountants are guilty of the same thing when it comes to accounting pronouncements. I usually have to read through something three times until I’m reasonably comfortable I understand what they are saying.

    • Io non sono sclazaaidznto, o indignato.Per quello che è stata pagata, la Thomas poteva presentarsi in bikini e cosparsa di nutella da due modelli venezuelani e infine ripulita a linguate da una coppia di Chihuahua.È come tutti si concentrano ad occhi sbarrati su una cosa così che mi fa chiedere se, per caso, tutta questa gente non si sia mai fatta un giro su Internet o non si sia mai accorta che la propria vicina di scrivania o la tipa incrociata sul metrò ha anche lei qualcosa di altrettanto interessante tra le gambe.

  2. Towner Blackstock

    I recall watching Diane Sawyer speak with one of Al Gore’s “plain language” officials. In the broadcast’s final minutes the official read the original regulation (something about mining, I think), and then read the “plain language” replacement. Diane looked pleased as she turned to the camera and signed off, while all I could do was scream at the television, “But that new version doesn’t mean the same thing!”

    Plain language often means language that is less specific . . . That is, more vague. Sure, regulations shouldn’t be prohibitively obtuse. But they should not be so plain as to not fully and clearly describe the prescribed or proscribed actions.

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