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Advocacies, the newest section of the Forum, aims to be a lively medium for disseminating ideas or proposed initiatives of lasting value, interest, or significance to Philippine society in particular and to the world in general. Only advocacies by registered Forum members will be entertained here, and they must be written in proper English as well as lucidly and responsibly argued or presented. Forum members are welcome at all times to post responses to particular advocacies, but they must observe courtesy and decorum in their responses. The publisher of this site reserves the right to immediately remove rants; highly partisan, ideological, or sectarian statements or tracts; advertorials, publicity, and advertising; and the like whether coming from advocates or reactors. If in doubt about the suitability of an advocacy for posting here, the Forum member is encouraged to clear the material first with the site publisher by e-mailing it to

Basic guideposts for the Plain Language Philippines campaign

Postings by Gerry T. Galacio, new Forum member

I. Introduction
    (Posted April 6, 2014)  

Plain Language is “writing so that users can find what they need, understand what they read, and use it to fulfill their needs.” Terms synonymous with Plain Language are Plain English, Plain Talk, Plain Writing, Clear Language, etc. Plain Language involves languages other than English such as Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, French, and German. 

Since the 1980s, numerous countries have adopted Plain Language programs because as former US Vice-President Al Gore said, “Plain Language is a civil right.” The Declaration of Parliamentary Openness considers Plain Language as one way of making governments transparent, accountable, and accessible. The US has its Plain Writing Act of 2010. Spanish-speaking countries also have Plain Language programs such as Mexico’s Lenguaje Ciudadano, Chile’s Ley Facil, and Spain’s Modernicazion del Lenguage Juridico.

In the Philippines, we currently have two Senate bills and a House bill that require the use of Plain Language in government communications.These are S.B.No 1092 “Plain Writing in Public Service Act” filed by Sen. Grace Poe; Section 20 of S.B. No. 1733 (Freedom of Information); and H.B.No. 3494 filed by Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos and co-authored by Camiguin Rep. XJ Romualdo.    

For more information about Plain Language, please surf to my Legal Updates blog.

II. Benefits of Plain Language for Government Offices
(Posted April 9, 2014)

The Office of Management and Budget implements the US Plain Writing Act of 2010. In its Final Guidelines, the OMB said that using Plain Language:
1. improves public understanding of government communications;
2. saves money and increases efficiency;
3. reduces the need for the public to seek clarification from agency staff;
4. improves public understanding of agency requirements and thereby assists the public in complying with them;
5. reduces resources spent on enforcement;
6. improves public understanding of agency forms and applications and assists the public in completing them; and
7. reduces the number of errors that are made and thus the amount of time and effort that the agency and the public need to devote to correcting those errors.

III. Benefits of Plain Language / Plain English for Private Businesses
(Posted April 9, 2014)

[1] From US Securities and Exchange Commission “Plain English Handbook”:

Many companies have switched to plain English because it’s a good business decision. 

Investors will be more likely to understand what they are buying and to make informed judgments.

Brokers and investment advisers can make better recommendations to their clients if they understand documents easily.

Lawyers reviewing plain English documents catch and correct mistakes more easily.

[2] “How Plain English Works for Business: Twelve Case Studies” by the Office of Consumer Affairs, US Department of Commerce (March 1984)

Some of the companies in this study are Citibank, N. A., Home Owners Warranty Corporation, and J. C. Penny Company. The study said that using plain English improved their corporate image and competitive position, as well as streamlined their procedures, eliminated unnecessary forms, and reduced customer complaints.

[3] Singapore’s leading newspaper The Straits Times said in its editorial dated January 25, 1998:

“Wooden language in client documents is a turn-off and not good for business.”

“Use of plain English enhances the image of the company and gives it an additional competitive edge.”

The editorial cited the following companies for their use of Plain English: Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation’s Asian Growth Funds; Alliance Capital Management’s Global Growth Trends Portfolio; Prudential Assurance; NTUC Income Insurance Cooperative; and Great Eastern Life Assurance.

IV. Reasons Why Legal Documents Should Be Written in Plain Language
(Posted April 9, 2014)

[1] From Christopher Cox, Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; testimony before the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology Committee on Small Business, U.S. House of Representatives (February 26, 2008):

“It’s a sad truth that our government’s laws and rules are not only mostly written by lawyers, but they seem also to be written primarily for the benefit of other lawyers. This makes compliance with the laws more expensive, because people who have to follow the laws and rules need to hire lawyers to find out what they mean.

“Legalese does more than waste time and money. When laws and rules are hard to understand, it’s more likely that people who are trying to comply won’t be able to do so, because they don’t understand what’s being asked of them.

“The government gets less of the behavior that it wants; the people trying to be good and do what government wants get frustrated and angry; our economy is less efficient because of all the expense involved; and overall, confidence in government is eroded, because when poorly written laws and rules are enforced, people view them as unfair and arbitrary.”

[2] From Bryan Garner’s interviews with US Supreme Court Justices, Scribes Journal of Legal Writing Volume 13

Justice Clarence Thomas on accessibility:

“I’d love one day for someone at a gas station who is not a lawyer to come up to me and say to me, “You know, I read your opinion, and I don’t agree with you.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? “I’m not a lawyer, I read your opinion, I understood it, I don’t agree with you, but thanks for making it accessible.” So we talk of it in terms of accessibility.”

Justice Stephen Breyer on clarity for ordinary persons:

Garner: “Do you think it matters whether ordinary people can understand judicial opinions?”

Justice Breyer: “If an ordinary person who is not a lawyer can understand it, I think that gives weight to what the Court does, and law is supposed to be intelligible. They should be able to follow it without having to take special vocabulary courses. And the purpose of an opinion is to give your reasons, and you give your reasons both for guidance, but also it should be possible for readers to criticize the writer. Now, people can’t criticize what I say, they can’t explain why they think it’s wrong, unless they can understand.”

[3] Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, third Chief Justice of the Republic of Singapore: “I think that Court of Appeal judgments should be expressed in language that a reasonably-educated layman can understand.”

V. Specific Examples of Plain Language’s Benefits
(Posted April 10, 2014)

[1] Small business owners saved 3.96 million hours in FY 2008 by using the Plain Language resources of (the official business link to the US Government).

[2] Simplicity in processes and communications results in higher brand loyalty among customers and fosters innovation among employees. (Siegel+Gale Simplicity Survey 2013)

[3] Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire issued her Plain Talk executive order in 2005, five years before Plain Writing became federal law. Since that time, some 5,000 state employees have been trained in Plain Language, and thousands of documents (form letters, web pages, etc.) have been revised to become reader-friendly. USA Today (December 10, 2006) reported that Washington’s Department of Revenue, by revising just one letter into Plain Language, tripled the number of businesses paying the “use tax” with an extra $800,000 collected over two years. (

[4] “Better Government for a Better Minnesota, Fact Sheet | Plain Language”

[5] From “Plain Language: Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please” by Prof. Joseph Kimble

The US Navy estimated it could save $250 to $300 million yearly by using Plain English.

General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English. 

The US Department of Veterans Affairs saved $40,000 redrafting one standard letter into plain English.

Federal Express, in revising its operations manuals, saved the company $400,000 in the first year.

Alberta (Canada) Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development, in revising its forms, saved $3.5 million. 

British Telecom cut customer queries by 25 percent by using plain English.

The British postal service saved £500,000 in nine months by redesigning one form in plain English. The British postal service saved £500,000 in nine months by redesigning one form in plain English.

Note: Prof Kimble is president of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Michigan, USA; former president, Clarity (international organization of lawyers committed to plain language); drafting consultant on all federal court rules since 1998; winner of Burton Award for “Reform in Law” for his work in the Plain Language restyling of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (2007) and Federal Rules of Evidence (2011).

VI. Warren Buffet, World’s Richest Person in 2008, Endorses Plain English
(Posted April 10, 2014)

Internationally-known American journalist William Zinsser explains in chapter 16 of his classic book “On Writing Well” why corporate executives favor highfalutin language:

“Still, plain talk will not be easily achieved in corporate America. Too much vanity is on the line. Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.”

What Zinsser said about corporate America is also true here in the Philippines. But corporate officers (and government officials) can follow the example of Warren Buffet, investor, industrialist, philanthropist, and world’s richest person in 2008. In the preface to the SEC “Plain English Handbook: How to create clear disclosure documents “ (1998), Buffett endorsed the use of Plain Language:

“Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”

The US SEC chairman at that time, Arthur Levitt, asked Buffett to rewrite the following text into Plain English:

“Maturity and duration management decisions are made in the context of the average maturity orientation for each Fund, as set forth in the Prospectus. The maturity structure of each Portfolio is adjusted in anticipation of cyclical interest rate changes. Such adjustments are not made in an effort to capture short-term, day-to-day movements in the market, but instead are implemented in anticipation of longer term, secular shifts in the levels of interest rates (i.e., shifts transcending and/or not inherent to the business cycle).”

Buffett’s Plain English revision went like this:

“We will try to profit by correctly predicting future interest rates. When we have no strong opinion, we will generally hold intermediate-term bonds. But when we expect a major and sustained increase in rates, we will concentrate on short-term issues. And, conversely, if we expect a major shift to lower rates, we will buy long bonds. We will focus on the big picture and won’t make moves based on short-term considerations.

Can you see how much more reader-friendly Buffett’s revision is? If you want more technical information, here are the readability stats provided by MS Word:

Original text: 27.6 words per sentence in 3 sentences; Passive sentences 100%; Flesch Reading Ease 19.7; Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 12.0

Buffett’s Plain English revision: 14.2 words per sentence in 5 sentences; Passive sentences 0%; Flesch Reading Ease 55.3; Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.0   

If Plain English is good enough for Warren Buffett, then it should be good enough for government officials and corporate executives.

VII. Plain Language is a Process
(Posted April 11, 2014)

From the Plain Language Workshop, The Junction Literacy Centre 2009 
1. Know your readers or audience. 
2. Organize your ideas in a way that makes sense. 
3 Write your document using plain language guidelines. 
4. Design your document. 
5 Test your document for readability and suitability. 
6. Revise your plain language document.

See also: 
1. “The Plain Language Process” by the Plain Language Association International

2. “The plain language process” by the Northwest Territories Literacy Council

“Before and After” Plain Language revisions of some government communications
(Posted April 11, 2014)

I posted these revisions in my Legal Updates blog to illustrate what Plain Language or Plain English is all about. Keep in mind that Plain Language is a process; my revisions need to be tested and revised.

BSP Circular No. 702, Series of 2010 (protection of credit card holders)

DepEd Order No. 88 s. 2010 (on manual of education for private schools)

RA 9994 Expanded rights of senior citizens

Senate rules of procedure in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona

DSWD Travel Clearance for Minors

Public Attorney’s Office guidelines for availing of its services

PDIC notice to Banco Filipino depositors (and other failed banks)

PVAO educational benefits

Pantawid Pasada Program guidelines

IX. Plain Language Includes Visual Design
(Posted April 11, 2014)

[1] The Plain English Handbook of the US Securities and Exchange Commission says:

“A plain English document is easy to read and looks like it’s meant to be read.”

“A plain English document reflects thoughtful design choices. The right design choices make a document easier to read and its information easier to understand. The wrong design choices can make even a well-written document fail to communicate.”

[2] The Office of Parliamentary Counsel (Australia) says:

“Plain language drafters also draw on the research and insights of experts in document design. They pay as much attention to fonts and white space as they do to choice of words. They try to devise methods of presenting material visually that will assist the reader to use the statute book effectively, and with minimum effort.” (

[3] Samples of Plain Language Use, Department of Administrative Services, Oregon

Best example is Automated Clearing House (ACH) electronic payment program. Before is at while After is at
[4] Typography and visual design for pleadings, motions, court and other legal documents at

X. Plain Language in Higher Education
(Posted April 12, 2014)

1. “Research Snapshots” project in Canada involves York University, University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, University of Guelph, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Harris Centre at Memorial University. This service oriented program is designed to connect university research with the legislature, community organizations, etc. to ensure that research helps to inform decision making. Database of research project summaries are written in plain language.

2. “Using ‘Plain Language’ When It Matters Most: A Case Study in Higher Education” by Cat McGrew, Margaret A Artman, Western Oregon University, at

“Plain writing enables the people that an organization or agency serves to understand better, participate more fully and be more empowered in that relationship. This holds true regardless of whether the organization is private or public, or even profit-driven or not.”

3. The International Consortium for Clear Communication (IC Clear) is a European Commission-funded project that will “develop, pilot and implement a postgraduate course in clear communication to respond to the increase in demand for clear, easy-to-understand information and the lack of well-trained clear communication professionals.” Some of the participating institutions are Sigmund Freud University (Austria), Simon Fraser University (Canada), Stockholm University, and Tallinn University (Estonia).

4. Harvard University School of Public Health produces health literacy materials in Plain Language.

5. National University of Singapore, in its Legal Writing Programme, uses Richard Wydick’s “Plain English for Lawyers” as its textbook.

6. University of Technology, Sydney: since 1999, plain language training workshop has been part of the Professional Program for law graduates seeking to qualify for admission to practice in New South Wales.

7. University of Michigan maintains an online dictionary of medical terms in Plain Language.

8. Duke University Graduate School encourages the use of Plain English among its students and faculty.

XI. Plain Language for Government Transparency, Accountability, and Accessibility
(Posted April 12, 2014)

[1] The “Declaration on Parliamentary Openness” was officially launched at the World e-Parliament Conference 2012 in Rome, Italy, on the International Day of Democracy, September 15, 2012, at

“Parliament shall ensure that legal or technical language does not serve as a barrier to citizens seeking to access parliamentary information. While recognizing the necessity of using precise language in writing laws, parliament has a duty to develop plain language summaries and similar tools to make parliamentary information readily available and understandable to members and citizens with diverse backgrounds and expertise.”

[2] “A government must speak plainly to its people” by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), at

[3] “Pushing the government to speak plainly” (article from The Washington Post) at

[4] Institute for Local Government, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education affiliate of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, at

“Communicating Effectively in Public Service: The Virtues of Plain Language” at

“The Ethics of Public Language” at

“The public’s access to understandable information about decision-making processes and public agency operations is critical to democratic accountability. If the language used by those in public service cannot be understood by the ordinary person, such language restricts meaningful public access to information necessary to understand decisions and hold decision-makers accountable.”

[5] “White House: Plain Writing Is ‘Indispensible’ for Open Government” at

[6] “Plain Language Makes Government More Accessible” by California Performance Review

“Plain language is a potent tool for establishing trust. Plain language provides information in a clear way so that all Californians understand what their government is doing without cloaking it in incomprehensible jargon. It lifts the veil of government bureaucratese to reveal words whose meanings are transparent.”

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