You can see these techniques at work in a plain language rewrite of traffic penalty notices in HK’s laws. Which is the more readable, more inviting text?
Traditional legislative style
(1) Where a notice under section 15 has been served on any person, the Commissioner of Police may, at any time before the commencement of any proceedings against that person in respect of the contravention specified in the notice and whether or not an order under section 16 has been applied for, but before such order is made, withdraw that notice, and may serve on that person a notice in writing informing him that the notice has been withdrawn.
(2) Where a notice under section 15 had been withdrawn under this section and any sum of money has been paid pursuant to the notice, the Director of Accounting Services shall, on demand by the person on whom the notice was served, repay to that person the sum so paid.
Have you ever read the fine print of an iTunes license agreement before pressing “I agree”? Chances are you haven’t. Few of us have time to wade through its dense legal text, written at times in shouty full caps style.
Fortunately a growing movement of writers, lawyers and designers are taking on the challenge to simplify the complex documents that run our lives.
One young designer reduced the 4,137-word iTunes agreement to 381 words in six “human readable” slides.
Corporate communications expert Alan Siegel responded to President Obama’s challenge to make a simple one-page consumer credit agreement. His work went viral in his TED talk.
Here in Hong Kong, the Department of Justice is committed to making legislation, one of the most forbidding of texts, more user-friendly. It drafts laws in plain language to make them as simple and clear as possible, without taking away from precision and substance. Embedded in this endeavour is the noble objective that you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand your laws.
All these inspiring efforts are part of the global move towards plain language.
About this blog
This blog arises from keeping an eye on English in Hong Kong. I often use signs, notices and advertisements that I see as starting points to write about English issues that commonly challenge Hong Kong writers.