Friday, August 02, 2013

Clear, concise, and effective English for law students, bar examinees, and legal writers in organizations, private companies, and government offices (16): OECD’s Principles of Style

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was officially born on September 30, 1961. It has 34 member-countries that account for 80% of world trade and investment. These member-countries include Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States, and the United Kingdom. More than 20 member-countries have plain language policy on law drafting.  

Some Plain English principles from the OECD Style Guide are:

  • Use basic, simple sentence structures.
  • Choose the simplest tenses.
  • Don’t bury long dependent clauses in mid-sentence.
  • Avoid using a long word when a shorter word will do.
  • Avoid using foreign words and expressions unless there is no English alternative. If foreign words or expressions are unavoidable, ensure that they are in italics.
  • Think twice before using empty and overused adjectives.
  • If necessary, remove weak intensifiers and qualifiers.
  • Ban redundancy which often comes in the form of an adjective that unnecessarily repeats the meaning of a noun or a verb.
  • Put statements in positive form.
  • Write with verbs.
  • Reduce prepositional phrases (on, of, in, for, with).
  • Prefer the active voice.
  • Beware of vague, empty words that clog beginnings.
  • Place emphatic words at the end of the sentence.
  • Avoid over-elaborate introductions.
  • Eliminate fluff and false starts such as I think, there was, it is.
  • Use the simplest, most specific language your subject allows. The more specific your words, the more likely you are to hold the reader’s attention. 
Exercise: The text below comes from the OECD Style Guide. What principles were used in revising the original sentence?

Original text Revised text
It is the widespread opinion of delegates that the report is of a rather general nature and does not succeed in addressing the issue, which is currently of such significance, of reforming pensions. Furthermore, there is complete agreement among delegates on the fact that no new data on unemployment across countries are presented in the report. Delegates believe that the report is too general and fails to discuss the important issue of pension reform. They also agree that it does not present any new data on unemployment in OECD countries.


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