A Plain English Handbook: Reading Recommendation

Plain English is like common sense: it’s prized but not too common.

When was the last time you listened to a presentation and left wondering what the speaker just said, or scratched your head over a confusing email? Sadly, it seems like clear communication in plain English is a rare commodity these days. That’s a problem in business today because it slows down the exchange of useful information needed to make intelligent decisions. On the other hand, it offers an opportunity for clear speakers to stand out.

In researching for my book on Maximum Credibility, I came across a useful solution to this problem that I would like to tell you about. Surprisingly, it was put out by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and it’s called, A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents.

Reading annual reports and prospectuses[1] can be like wading into a swamp at night without a map: it’s slow going, and even if you get through to the other side you’re not sure where you’ve been. The net result is that investors can’t make informed investment decisions. So, if someone can make complex financial information easier to understand, there is hope for all of us.

The Handbook does this very well, with clear and simple rules for figuring out what the reader needs to make a good decision, eliminating unnecessary and confusing verbiage, and writing in a “user-friendly” style.

The Handbook says, “A plain English document is easy to read and looks like it’s meant to be read.” I believe you can extend that same idea to speaking: a plain English presentation is easy to understand and is a pleasure to hear. The same rules that apply to writing apply to speaking, so anyone who has to sell ideas can benefit from reading—and practicing—the ideas in A Plain English Handbook.

The Handbook is easy to read, of course, and even better, it’s free. They offer it here as a public service, and you will be doing yourself and your public a favor by reading it, even if only as a reminder. As Warren Buffett says in the introduction: “Write as this handbook instructs you and you will be amazed at how much smarter your readers will think you have become.”


[1] It’s not prospecti, is it?

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