Plain English should not mean dumbing down

No doubt the Plain English campaign’s public relations team thought it a good idea to award Germaine Greer their “Golden Bull” award for a sentence it found baffling.  Her response is a masterclass in why Plain English does not mean writing for the lowest common denominator, but reflecting the intelligence of your audience.

Note also that she has announced this in advance of the Award ceremony on 12 December – so in “clear communications” terms, the Plain English campaign fails to have any further information on its website.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Plain English should not mean dumbing down”

  1. Writing for the tabloids is supposed to be one of the hardest writing taks a journalist can do (apart from headline writing to limited character space). I thought this was because you’re having to be pretty succinct in a page dominated by huge bull pictures leaving, at best, space for a couple of hundred words. Is dumbing down to the audience a consideration in writing for The Sun for instance?

    As for redundant words, they are usually whipped out by the subby. Long live the subby!

  2. In GG’s case she was writing for the Arts Guardian – so her readership should be considered as informed. I agree there is a real challenge in writing succinctly, especially for the tabloids. I still don’t think you need to totally dumb down the quality of writing to be clear and precise. Although some reports state the average reading age in the UK is 9 years of age (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3641634.stm), others (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/2494637.stm) show that regular reading of a wide range of sources increases academic achievements.

    The Sun at its best manages to get a story across very concisely – but that doesn’t mean all writing needs to match its style, and that audiences shouldn’t be challenged in their reading at least some of the time.

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