Here are some of the most common questions about Plain English Campaign. If you have any questions about this website, please visit the accessibility section.
- What is Plain English Campaign?
- What is plain English?
- Where should plain English be used?
- What's wrong with gobbledygook?
- Who funds Plain English Campaign?
- Can I join the campaign?
- How can I learn to write in plain English?
- What is the Crystal Mark?
- Can I get the Crystal Mark for a website?
- Do you recommend the FOG index or the Flesch test?
- Do you have any examples of gobbledygook?
- Why did the campaign start?
- Who are the worst offenders for gobbledygook?
- Are you having any success?
- Are there any laws against gobbledygook?
We are an independent organisation fighting against jargon, gobbledygook and other confusing language, while promoting crystal-clear language. We are based in New Mills, Derbyshire, in England.
We define plain English as writing that the intended audience can understand and act upon the first time they read it. Plain English takes into account design and layout as well as language.
Plain English is needed in all kinds of public information, such as forms, leaflets, agreements and contracts. The golden rule is that plain English should be used in any information the public rely on when they make decisions.
We can't put it better than a nurse who wrote to us about a baffling memo. She said that receiving information in this form 'makes us feel hoodwinked, inferior, definitely frustrated and angry, and it causes a divide between us and the writer.'
We are entirely self-funded, which allows us to stay totally independent. We raise our funds through our commercial services, which include editing documents and training courses.
We have a brochure which covers all our services which you can download. This is in Adobe Acrobat (also called PDF) format. If you do not have Adobe installed on your computer, click on the link at the bottom of this page to download the software.
If you would like to register as a supporter of Plain English Campaign, follow this link to register. We will send you occasional updates about our work.
We always welcome nominations for our awards, both the Plain English awards and the legendary Golden Bulls.
Organisations can join as corporate members. For a set fee, they will get free Crystal Marks for all documents that pass our testing, free training places, and discounts on our diploma courses.
The Crystal Mark is our internationally recognised symbol of clarity. It applies to a particular document, and shows that it is in plain English.
We have a special Internet Crystal Mark scheme for websites.
The FOG index was a very rough measure of readability, created in the 1940s by a man named Robert Gunning. We used it in our first report, 'Small Print', in the early 1980s. However, we do not recommend it, or any other mathematical formula for measuring readability. You cannot give a document a score for plain English - either it is crystal-clear or it isn't. There is no substitute for testing a document on real people.
If you use Microsoft Word, you may have seen the 'Flesch reading ease' score. This is based on sentence length and how many syllables there are in the words used. Rudolf Flesch, who created the system, warned that "Some readers, I am afraid, will expect a magic formula for good writing and will be disappointed with my simple yardstick. Others, with a passion for accuracy, will wallow in the little rules and computations but lose sight of the principles of plain English. What I hope for are readers who won't take the formula too seriously and won't expect from it more than a rough estimate."
Yes - click here for our examples page. This includes classic gobbledygook from our 20 years of campaigning, some plain English translations, and our new gobbledygook generator.
Our founder director Chrissie Maher took up the battle for crystal-clear language after hearing about how two elderly ladies, who had been baffled by a benefits form, died of hypothermia. After fighting for plain English on her own for 10 years, she launched Plain English Campaign as a full-time movement in 1979, infamously shredding forms in Parliament Square.
In our experience, the legal profession and finance industries cause the most concern. Many companies have worked extremely hard to use plain English, but these industries will always be our main targets. Plain English is about language affecting ordinary people's lives, and people have the right to get the information they need to make informed decisions about money and the law.
We believe we have won the first stage of a two-stage battle. In many cases, we have won the battle to persuade people that plain English is good news for customers, companies and government. We are still working on the second stage - the hard slog of redrafting the gobbledygook, and making sure that writers start to get it in plain English first time.
Many states in the US require insurance contracts to be in plain English. In Canada and Australia, many new laws must actually be drafted in plain English.
In Britain, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 say that terms in consumer contracts must be in 'plain and intelligible language'. The regulations also say these terms must be 'accessible', which means using clear design and typography.
Consumer contracts are those between a member of the public and a firm that is selling or supplying a product or service. If a consumer challenges a term, and it is found to be unclear or ambiguous, a court must interpret it in whichever way best favours the consumer. The Office of Fair Trading regularly warns firms to change such terms before they are challenged in court.
Similar regulations apply to all countries in the European Union.