An ISO Standard for Plain Language: the back story and the next steps

by Christopher Balmford < 1 minutes read

Published in The Clarity Journal 79 – 2018

The Standards Committee of the International Plain Language Federation is working to develop an international standard for plain language through the International Organisation of Standardization.

The Standards Committee of the International Plain Language Federation is working to develop an international standard for plain language through the International Organisation of Standardization.

1. The back story

THE FEDERATION’S 2010 OPTIONS PAPER STARTS A DISCUSSION

In 2010, the International Plain Language Working Group (formed by Clarity, Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) and the US-based Center for Plain Language) published an options paper Strengthening plain language: public benefit and professional practice.

The paper explores the most prominent questions relating to:

  • defining plain language
  • setting international standards
  • training practitioners
  • grounding plain language in research
  • advocating for plain language
  • certifying practitioners
  • strengthening our institutional structure.

THE DEFINITION OF “PLAIN LANGUAGE”

Since then, the Group firmly settled on a definition of plain language, namely:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.

STANDARDS THAT ARE “OUTCOMES-BASED” OR “ELEMENTS-BASED” (OR BOTH)?

The 2010 Options Paper discussed 2 approaches to a standard:

an “elements-based standard” — that is, a standard that says “A document is in plain language if it [reflects the guidelines about clear writing];

versus

an “outcomes-based standard” — that is, a standard that says “A document is in plain language if [testing on a sample audience shows that it is clear].5