Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SEC promotes plain English

Which of these is easier to understand:

NO PERSON HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED TO GIVE ANY INFORMATION OR MAKE ANY REPRESENTATION OTHER THAN THOSE CONTAINED OR INCORPORATED BY REFER­ ENCE IN THIS JOINT PROXY STATEMENT/PROSPECTUS, AND, IF GIVEN OR MADE, SUCH INFORMATION OR REPRE­ SENTATION MUST NOT BE RELIED UPON AS HAVING BEEN AUTHORIZED.

or

You should rely only on the information contained in this document or that we have referred you to. We have not authorized anyone to provide you with information that is different.

?



Almost certainly the second text. The plain English rewrite uses everyday words, short sentences, active voice, regular print, and personal pronouns that speak directly to the reader.

This example is taken from the Securities and Exchange Commission's guide to writing clear English, entitled A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents.

The SEC's recommendations follow standard guidelines set by George Orwell, Strunk & White, and Sir Ernest Gowers, and add some specific guidance relevant to corporate disclosure:
  • Use the active voice with strong verbs.
  • Try using personal pronouns.
  • Bring abstractions down to earth.
  • Omit superfluous words.
  • Use short sentences.
  • Replace jargon and legalese with short, common words.
  • Choose the simpler synonym.
  • Keep the subject, verb and object close together.
  • Keep your sentence structure parallel.
  • Steer clear of "respectively".
The Handbook also gives helpful advice on typography and layout.

You can download the complete text here.


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