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Tired of hearing about the GDPR? Me too. That’s why I’m not going to talk about it for long. Still, one term that appears in the language of the GDPR continues to resonate with me, and that’s “transparency.” Article 12 of the GDPR requires the use of transparent communication. More specifically, it reads, “The controller shall take appropriate measures to provide any information […] and any communication […] relating to processing to the data subject in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language…” It’s important to understand that transparency in communication, GDPR aside, has the potential to help you solve a range of business problems. If you’re wondering how to ensure you’re transparent when you communicate, I have the answer. Use plain language.
Sure, plain language doesn’t sound exciting. That’s because it isn’t. And it isn’t meant to be. Instead, plain language is something your targeted audience can read, comprehend, and retain. To be transparent, you must make information easy to access and understand for your intended audience.
There’s a time and a place to use complex (i.e. not plain) language. Usually, the proper setting is when you’re among scholars, peers, or when you indulge in that verbose fiction novel on your nightstand. These instances are few and far between for most of us. If you love using complex language, don’t despair! There will be plenty of opportunities to demonstrate how articulate you can be. Writing a research paper for your boss? Crush her with powerful, extravagant words you know she’ll both understand and be enthralled by. Writing policies for employees? Write it in plain language. They’ll have fewer questions, and frankly, may actually read the policies.
When else do you use plain language? In blogs, emails, and communication to people who aren’t authorities in your area of expertise. Also known as “laypeople,” these folks will need a dictionary to translate industry-specific lingo. You should trust that they won’t pull out a dictionary. Google maybe, but only if they’re really interested in what you have to say.
It all boils down to this: If you want to get your point across, do so as simply as possible. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Take that to heart. You know the policies, regulations, and procedures in your field well enough to explain them. I get it; it’s not easy. You spent years familiarizing yourself with the jargon of your specialty, and it’s practical to use it in conversation with your peers. But, to deliver an impactful message to the layperson, there are three things you should know:
- It is not essential that your message sound Shakespearean
- You don’t need to use complex language to demonstrate your expertise; your qualifications convey your knowledge (confidence helps too!)
- Your audience wants to understand your message with minimal effort on their part
So, how do you know if your content passes the plain language test? I have a few tips for you:
- Organize content logically
- Avoid long sentences; you might like to write them, but no one likes to read them
- Use words with fewer syllables when possible (think: exceptionally vs. very)
- Use an active voice; it’s easier to read and conveys confidence in your message
These four steps will get you started, but there’s much more to delivering a powerful, easily-understood message. Fortunately, the Center for Plain Language is an excellent resource to help you craft content that works for you, and more importantly, that works for your audience. And if you’re in the business of information governance, it’s a skill worth developing if you want to remain compliant.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.