I am setting forth ten commandments for writers in the public sector, based on my dissertation and on standards for clear writing. The commandments will each appear as a Word of the Week.
Favor familiar words.
Each of us can decide whether to call a dentist an oral healthcare provider, or to refer to a preschool center as an early childhood education unit. Usually, the best option is the term people use in everyday language.
In government documents, officials seem to use an excessive amount of abstract language. Sometimes, when dealing in generalities or in details, abstraction is necessary, but it can easily become a default style for writing. To ease the reader’s comprehension, writers should replace the abstract terms with more concrete ones. For example: accessible > easy to access, convertibility > easy to convert, multifunctional > for many uses.
Before inserting a new, uncommon word into a text, consider whether there is an old, familiar word that can support the message. Last year in Tampere we had a naming struggle related to the consolidation of three local colleges. One obvious option was to extend the existing name of Tampere University. However, some stakeholders wanted to create a completely new brand and a new name. Many suggestions arose, like New Tampere University and even Tampere3. After much back-and-forth, fortunately, common sense won out. People often want to emphasize novelty with a new name, but in situations like this, they risk turning the familiar into the confusing.