Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Plain English--samples


1.4 Samples
This Section provides some samples of how plain English in legalese and other documents.

1.4.1 Legalese
Sample 1
In his article Drafting: PLAIN ENGLISH VERSUS LEGALESE,  Stephen Hunt provides a clear background to both forms of writing and analyses the responses from 26 respondents without legal training and 60 respondents with legal training and comes to a balanced conclusion in favour of plain English. I urge you to take a look at this interesting contribution.
An example of a traditional legalese style contract.

Agreement for Building a House.

MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT, made and entered into this second day of May, 1994, between John Smith of the one part, and Mary Jones of the other part, as follows, viz. THE SAID Mary Jones, for the consideration hereinafter mentioned, doth agree with the said John Smith that she, the said Mary Jones, or her assigns, will, within the space of three calender months next following day of the date hereof, find and provide all fit and proper materials and things, and erect, build and finish, in a good, sound, substantial, and workmanlike manner, one brick house or building on a certain piece or parcel of ground, situate in 41 Matipo Ave, Rotorua, according to the plan thereof hereunto annexed. AND THE SAID John Smith for the consideration aforesaid, doth agree with the said Mary Jones well and truly to pay or cause to be paid unto the said Mary Jones, the sum of 60,000 dollars of lawful money of New Zealand, in manner following; that is to say, 20,000 dollars, part thereof, as soon as the foundation of the said house shall be laid, 20,000 dollars other part thereof, when the brick work of the said house shall be carried up and covered in, and 20,000 dollars, being the remainder thereof, in full payment of and for building the said house, when the same shall be completed inside and out fit for occupation, subject to the approbation of Jill Black, as surveyor of the said John Smith: AND LASTLY, THE SAID John Smith and Mary Jones do further to agree to perform for each other, with all convenient speed, this memorandum of agreement, in penalty of 500 dollars for each individual week, for any failure by more than one week, of the true performance of the erecting, building and finishing, in a good, sound, substantial, and workmanlike manner the aforesaid house, or failure to pay, or failure to pay part thereof, for building the said house. 

John Smith.
Mary Jones.

[Contract A is based on a precedent contained in Woolaston, F L Woodfall’s Law of Landlord and Tenant (1840)].

An example of a modern plain English style contract.

Contract for Building a House:
Date: May 2, 1994.
Between: John Smith the landowner and
Mary Jones the builder.
To: Build a house at 41 Matipo Avenue,
Conditions of the contract:
1. Mary Jones agrees to build a house for John Smith by August 2, 1994.
2. The house will be built to the specifications of the attached plan.
3. John Smith will pay Mary Jones 60,000 dollars for building the house.
a. The payment will be in three instalments of 20,000 dollars.
    i. John Smith will pay the first instalment when the foundations have been laid.
   ii. John Smith will pay the second instalment when the brick work is completed and the house is  
        covered in.
  iii. John Smith will pay the third instalment when the house is completed to a standard which is  
       acceptable to Jill Black.
4. If John Smith does not pay an instalment within one week from the day it is due a penalty will be
    incurred. The penalty is incurred every week an individual instalment remains unpaid. The penalty  
    is 500 dollars per week per unpaid instalment.
5. If Mary Jones does not complete the house within one week from August 2 1994 a penalty will be
    incurred. The penalty is incurred every week the house is not completed. The penalty is 500
    dollars per week.

John Smith.
Mary Jones.

[Contract B is my “translation” of Contract A into plain English]

Hunt, Stephen --- "Drafting: Plain English versus Legalese" [1995] WkoLawRw 9; (1995) 3 Waikato Law Review 163

Sample 2
Sample of old text
Group Conversion
(Direct Payment) Subscribers
In the event of termination of eligibility of the subscriber for coverage as a member of the
group through which his coverage is effective, by reason of termination of employment or
otherwise, the subscriber may, by written notice to the Service Association within thirty
(30) days after the end of the monthly payment period in which eligibility so terminates,
elect to convert this contract to a Group Conversion contract; provided that no such
right of conversion shall exist if the group of which the subscriber is a member shall enter
into an arrangement to provide any of its eligible members with hospital care or hospital
expense protection other than through the Service Association, and if as a result of such
arrangement the contracts of all subscribers in the group are terminated by the Service
Association or the subscribers.

The same text in Plain English
Group Conversion Coverage
When leaving a group health care coverage plan, individual coverage is available through
a BCBSM Group Conversion plan. You or your eligible dependents must submit to
BCBSM a written request for a Group Conversion contract:
* within 30 days of the date your group coverage was canceled or
* within six months before the date the COBRA group continuation coverage ends
(18 or 36 months).

"We also changed the appearance of certificates and riders to enhance their readability.
Both were enlarged from 33/4 x 8/2" to 5/ x 81/ ".Colored headnotes, bullets
and borders were added to highlight the text. Small, light-blue type was replaced
with large, black type. More space was allowed for margins. Since riders are usually
printed separately from the certificates they amend, we added a pocket in the back of
each certificate where riders can be stored.

Plain English in Insurance Papers by George H. Hathaway and Peter A. Marroso published in Plain Language, a regular feature of the Michigan Bar Journal, edited by Joseph Kimble for the State Bar Plain English Committee

Sample 3

Appellate Brief
The trial court erred in giving flawed essential elements instructions
To the jury and thereby denied the defendant due process and fundamental
fairness since it is error to give the jury, within the essential elements
instructions, one statement containing more than one essential element
of the crime and requiring of the jury simple and singular assent or denial
of that compound proposition, fully capable of disjunctive answer, which
if found pursuant to the evidence adduced would exculpate the defendant.

Plain English
Appellate Brief
The trial judge erred by instructing the jury to affirm or deny a single
question which contained more than one essential element of the crime.
By joining all of the major elements, the court denied the defendant
his due process right to be acquitted if found innocent of any one
of the elements.

Robert W. Benson and Joan B. Kessler’s article “Legalese V, Plain English: An Empirical Study of Persuasion and Credibility in Appellate published in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol.20:301  

Sample 4

From a statute:
In case any building or structure is erected, constructed, reconstructed, altered, converted or
maintained, or any building, structure or land is used, or any land is divided into lots, blocks or sites in violation of this article or of any local law, ordinance or other regulation made under authority conferred thereby, the proper local authorities of the town, in addition to other remedies, may institute any appropriate action or proceedings to prevent such unlawful erection, construction, reconstruction, alteration, conversion, maintenance, use or division of land, to restrain, correct or abate such violation, to prevent the occupancy of said
building, structure or land or to prevent any illegal act, conduct, business or use in or about such premises.

In other words:
If any use of land or of a structure — or if the structure itself — violates this article or a local law or regulation, the proper town authorities may take legal action to correct or end the violation and to prevent any illegal use of the premises. [Incidentally, does the statute
apply to preexisting uses and structures?]

Joseph Kimble’s article “Lifting the Fog of Legalese in Essays of Plain Language” published by Carolina Academic Press 2006

Sample 5

From a mortgage:
The undersigned borrower(s) for and in consideration of The Mortgage Company, this date
funding the closing of the above-referenced property, agrees, if requested by Lender or Closing Agent for Lender, to fully cooperate and adjust for clerical errors, any or all loan closing documentation if deemed necessary or desirable in the reasonable discretion of
Lender to enable Lender to sell, convey, seek guarantee, or market said loan to any entity, including but not limited to an investor, Federal National Mortgage Association, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or the Federal Housing Authority. The undersigned
borrower(s) do hereby so agree and covenant in order to assure that the loan documentation executed this date will conform and be acceptable in the market place in the instance of transfer, sale, or conveyance by Lender of its interest in and to said loan documentation.

In other words:
If the lender asks us to, we will cooperate in fixing clerical errors in the closing documents so that the loan can be marketed and transferred to someone else.

Joseph Kimble’s article “Lifting the Fog of Legalese in Essays of Plain Language published by Carolina Academic Press 2006

Sample 6

       “COMES NOW the Plaintiff herein, John Smith, by and through his
         undersigned counsel and the law firm of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, P.C.,
         and pursuant to the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, for his Complaint
         against the Defendant herein, Mary Jones, states and alleges as follows:”

That is 46 words. It is a fine example of “Legalese."

solution to the 46 word legalese is: Plaintiff alleges: …

Explanation: Nothing more is need. The caption identifies the parties, their status as plaintiff or defendant, and the lawyer or firm filing the Complaint for the Plaintiff. The caption labels the document a “’Complaint,” so a second reference to that fact is not necessary; we assume the Plaintiff relies on those if the Plaintiff files in a Colorado court.

Source: Mark Steven Cohen’s  ‘How to write in Plain English Instead of “Legalese”  at

1.4.2 other documents
Sample 7
“One bus-driver in Debyshire … got national publicity in 2001 after translating its 183 rules into readable prose, much of which was adopted by the firm. Instead of
        ‘Ensure the potential impact of non-routine factors and problems
         and other services are assessed and details notified promptly
         to an appropriate person’,
he wrote
         ‘Inform the depot if you are stuck in traffic or involved in an accident.’
Instead of
         ‘Ensure machinery for issuing and endorsing tickets is confirmed as
           in working order and is set in accordance with approved procedure’,
he wrote
           ‘Check the ticket machine is showing the correct date and place.’

p.11 of Martin Cutt’s Oxford Guide to Plain English

Sample 8
The company has entered into a revolving credit line policy of S$10 million with XYZ bank that is secured by first priority lien on all assets under the company.

In plain English
We have obtained a credit line from XYZ bank that allows us to borrow up to S$10 million. Our liabilities for the extended credit line are backed by all of our assets and XYZ bank will have priority over other creditors to our assets.

Sample 9
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

Plain Enlgish
If you have any questions, please phone.

Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

Plain English
Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone.


Sample 10
The following summary is intended only to highlight certain information contained elsewhere in this prospectus.

Plain English
This summary highlights some information from this prospectus

No person has been authorised to give any information or make any representation other than those contained or incorporated by reference in this joint proxy statement/prospectus, and, if given or made, such information or representation must not be relied upon as having been authorised.

Plain English
You should rely only on the information contained in this document or information we have referred you to. We have not authorised anyone to provide you with different information.

Plain English by Say It Once Ltd. 2013

Sample 11
Title I of the CARE Act creates a program of formula and supplemental competitive grants to help metropolitan areas with 2,000 or more reported AIDS cases meet emergency care needs of low-income HIV patients. Title II of the Ryan White Act provides formula grants to States and territories for operation of HIV service consortia in the localities most affected bu the epidemic, provision of home and community -based care, continuation of insurance coverage for persons with HIV infection, and treatments that prolong life and prevent serious deterioration of health. Up to 10 percent of the funds for this program can be used to support Special Projects of National Significance.

Plain English
Low income people living with HIV/AIDS gain, literally, years, through the advanced drug treatments and ongoing care supported by HRSA’s Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

When the process of freeing a vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area.

Plain English
If you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fill the hole before you drive away.

Sections 4.40 through 4.71 do not apply to Indian probate proceedings, heirship determinations under the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act of 1985, and other proceedings under subpart D of this part, except that §§ 4.40 through 4.71 do apply to cases referred to an administrative law judge pursuant to § 4.337(a)

Plain English
Unless a case is referred to an administrative law judge under § 4.337(a), §§ 4.40 through 4.71 do not apply to:
1. Indian probate proceedings;
2. Heirship determinations under the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act of 1985; and
3. Other proceedings under subpart D of this part.


Sample 12
Any person holding a driving licence to drive any class or description of motor vehicles, who is not for the time being disqualified for holding or obtaining a driving licence to drive any other class or description of motor vehicles, may apply to the licensing authority having jurisdiction in the area in which he resides or carries on his business in such form and accompanied by such documents and with such fees as may be prescribed by the Central Government for the addition of such other class or description of motor vehicles to the licence. (82 words)

plain English
If you are holding a valid driving licence, then you can apply for an ‘addition’ for driving another class or description of motor vehicles. You need to apply to the licensing authority of the area where you reside or where you work.
You need to apply in the form with supporting documents, and fees as specified by the Central Government.
(60words, 3 sentences) (See Rule 17 and Rule 32 of CMV Rules, 1989)

Guidelines to write a plain English document by Plain English India
at: B1d0e712483f7c8a19cb9a4ec108e45.pdf

My version
If you hold a valid driving licence, you can apply for an additional licence for driving another type of vehicle. Please submit to the licensing authority closest to your residence or work place the filled appropriate application form with supporting documents and fees as specified by the Central Government. (49 words)

1.5 guidelines to writing in plain English
Martin Cutts says “I say guidelines, not rules.”

What follows is a suggested procedure for writing a document in plain language, taken from Martin Cutts’ Oxford Guide to Plain English (pages 17-195), second edition—13th impression:

Style and grammar
1. Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 14-20 words.
    Here, ‘The key words is average, so not all sentences need to be in this range;
               there should be plenty of variety.’ Page 20, ibid)
    Cutts suggests six techniques to convert long sentences into short ones:
i.                    Split and disconnect  ii. Split and connect  iii. Say less 
iv. Use a list  v. cut verbiage  vi. Bin the sentence and start again
2. Use words your readers are likely to understand.
     Cutts offers four ways:
i.                    Use simple alternatives  ii. Reconstruct the sentences
        iii. adjusting the style to the audience 
        iv. Conquering the fear of not being eminent, scientific or literary
     And he offers a list of official sounding words along with alternatives, discusses  
     troublesome words like ‘advices’, ‘apropos’, ‘as and when’, ‘words often confused’ and
     ‘foreign phrases with alternative phrases’.
3. Use only as many words as you need.
    Cutts suggests ways to achieve this:
i.                    Striking out useless words  ii. Pruning the dead wood 
       iii. Rewriting completely        iv. Putting it all together
4. Prefer the active voice unless there’s a good for using the passive
5. Use clear, crisp, lively verbs to express the actions in your document.
6. Use vertical lists to break up complicated text.
7. Put your points positively when you can.
8. Reduce cross-references to a minimum.
9. Try to avoid sexist usage.
10. In letters avoid fusty first sentences and formula finishes.
11. Put accurate punctuation at the heart of your writing.
12. Avoid being enslaved by myths:
      1. You must not start a sentence with ‘but’.
      2. You must not put a comma before ‘and’.
      3. You must not end a sentence with a preposition.
      4. You must not split your infinitives.
      5. You must not write one sentence paragraphs.
      6. You should write as you speak.
      7. You should not test your writing with a readability formula.
13. You can be a good writer  without learning hundreds of grammatical terms.

Preparing and planning
14. Plan before you write.
      i. Pre-production state  ii. Production stage  iii. Post-production stage

Organizing the information
15. Organize your material in a way that helps readers to grasp the important information
       early and to navigate through the document easily. (Several models are provided.)
16. Consider different ways of setting out your information.

Management of writing
17. Manage colleagues’ writing carefully and considerately to boost their morale and
      effectiveness: working with the team making the right interventions, finally… .

Plain English for specific purposes: e-mail, instructions and legal documents
18. Take as much care with e-mail as you would with the rest of your writing.
19. Devote special effort to producing lucid and well-organized instructions.
       Curtts suggests knowing the readers, using imperatives, splitting information into
       chunks, help through headings and sub-headings, using appropriate visuals, captions,
       test your writing with a panel of users.      
20. Apply plain English techniques to legal documents such as insurance policies, car-hire
      agreements, laws and wills.

21. Use clear layout to present your plain words in an easily accessible way.”