Writing for easy understanding and reading: legal language and smal print

Communicating rights in police custody

8 September 2011, University of ReadingFrances Rock

Frances Rock, from Cardiff University, presented on 'I thought "mm terrible and we're handing these out?": approaches to the communication
of rights in police custody'. Further notes from Frances Rock and a useful bibliography can be found here Frances Rock hand-out
(PDF - 344KB)

The current version of the Notice,  Notices of right sentitlement (PDF - 133KB), was subject of the research. Frances commented" 'It seems that the notice was updated at the beginning of
August - It now contains information which reflects changes in the provision of legal advice and foregrounds the potential for medical advice to be provided which presumably reflects recent incidents in custody... (The Notice is still based around the one [in the study] but is now rather longer and more jumbled)'. 

Ways of clarifying legal language

A common refrain is, 'It may be rhubarb but only lawyers have to read it.' In this talk Martin Cutts, Research Director at the Plain Language Commission, looked at some instances where 'ordinary people' (ie, non-lawyers) have to try to make sense of legalistic language, usually without a lawyer's help. He argued that, despite progress in recent times, authors could do much more to make their message clear. 

Are you blind? Regulating the accessibility of typography

Mark Barratt, Partner at Text Matters, argued Writing for easy understanding and reading
that the research basis behind 'clear print'
recommendations is generally very thin, but
that even if the research actually proves what disability rights organisations want it to prove, there are other problems with the approach of
recommending or mandating minimum font

The problems included the appropriateness
of  the guidance to the task of the printed
object to which the guidance generally applies
(not novels, for example) and the problems of 'absolutist' and 'risk-appropriate' approaches. Also their impact on clients (and designers) who take a compliance/box-ticking attitude to issues like  this and thus can restrict the development
of print documents which work well for readers (because they may 'break the rules' on typeface size).

He suggested that for important documents performance testing, perhaps using some of the approaches of Australian and European medicine 'patient information leaflets' could be adopted.

View Are you BLIND?! Regulating accessibility in print, Mark Barratt (PDF - 943KB).

See also the Simplification Centre's report: 
The Clear Print standard: arguements for a flexible approach.

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