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Plain English in Oregon

Today the state of Oregon’s lawmakers are discussing a bill that would mandate plain English in official state communications. If they pass a bill requiring plain English, Oregon will join the U.S. federal government and Florida and Washington state governments in outlawing obfuscation. Oops–I mean outlawing confusing, dense language that is very difficult to understand.

In the online version of The Oregonian, Janie Har covers the story of the bill and its chief sponsor, Representative Chuck Riley. Riley offers a fine example of what the bill seeks to eliminate. The passage begins like this:

In every building or other structure, or part thereof, used for mercantile, business, industrial, or storage purposes, the loads approved by the building official shall be marked on plates of approved design which shall be supplied and securely affixed by the owner of the building, or his duly authorized agent. . . .

It ends the same dizzying way. What does it mean? Read plain language expert Annetta Cheek’s revision here.

Go, Oregon! And thanks to Oregonian Caralee for informing me of this promising movement.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.