Plain Language

Resource Guide

Unlike the complex, stylistic writing of most legal documents, plain language is a more precise and unambiguous style that allows readers to benefit by understanding and interpreting the document in a faster and easier manner. This topic offers resources describing the advantages of using plain language instead of the traditional legalistic style, as well as techniques and guidelines for writing in plain language.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.


General

The Plain Language Association International (PLAIN). (December 2005). This web site provides free plain-language articles, writing tutorials, web links, news, networking opportunities, professional support, and an e-mail discussion group. The site also offers PLAIN membership, connections with consultants, and professional conferences.
A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents . (1998). Washington, DC: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Investor Education and Assistance This handbook shows how you can use well-established techniques for writing in plain English to create clearer and more informative disclosure documents.
Judicial Writing Manual. (1991). Washington, DC: Federal Judicial Center This manual assists judges in organizing and writing opinions. 
Plain Language Tools. National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Federal Register As part of their effort to help agencies produce clear, enforceable regulatory documents, the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, provides this guide to legal writing. See also Drafting Legal Documents.
Plain Language.gov . Provides a host of resources on plain language, especially geared toward government documents.
Bresler, Kenneth. The Clear Writing Company. Bresler writes a free biweekly electronic newsletter, "Clear Writing Tips."

Judicial System

Abrams, Douglas. Plain-English Drafting for the Age of Statutes. (June 2009). Michigan Bar Journal.

Because citizens with law degrees hold no monopoly on our statute books based on consent of the governed, lawmakers should strive to express themselves in plain English from initial drafting through enactment.

Clarity: The Worldwide Lawyers Group Campaigning for Plain Legal Language. (June 2005).

Clarity is a worldwide group of lawyers and interested lay people. Its aim is the use of good, clear language by the legal profession. The association publishes a journal, Clarity, which is available to members.

Mindlin, Maria. Is Plain Language Better?: Comparative Readability Study of Plain Language Court Forms. (2004). Transend The article provides the results from the first quantitative readability study of plain language court forms in the United States.
Kimble, Joseph. Answering the Critics of Plain Language. (April 2003). The author explores old and new criticisms of the plain language movement and attempts to dispel misconceptions about plain language in legal writing.
Bresler, Kenneth L. Kissing Legalese Goodbye. (2001). Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co. This book lists common legalese that lawyers (and non-lawyers) love to use, followed by the everyday words that they should use instead.

Jury Proceedings

Schiess, Wayne. The Texas Pattern Jury Charges - A Plain-Language Project. (November 2010). Michigan Bar Journal.

In 2005 and 2006, a plain-language task force prepared a revision to a set of Texas jury instructions, mainly the admonitory instructions, from the state bar’s Pattern Jury Charges. It produced a set of revised instructions that were tested alongside the original instructions on two groups of mock jurors.

Peter Tiersma and Mathew Curtis. Testing the Comprehensibility of Jury Instructions: California's Old and New Instructions on Circumstantial Evidence. (2008). Journal of Court Innovation.

There is little doubt that standard instructions save judges time and effort. Yet studies suggest that jurors do not understand traditional instructions very well, especially when more difficult points of law are involved.

Charles Otto, Brandon Applegate, and Robin Davis. Improving Comprehension of Capital Sentencing Instructions. (2007). Crime & Delinquency 53, no. 3.

Past research has shown that jurors are often confused by the instructions used in the sentencing phase of a capital trial. The current research tested the effectiveness of a “debunking” approach to improving juror misunderstanding associated with capital sentencing instructions.

Civil Jury Instructions Resource Center. (2004). Judicial Council of California The Judicial Council at its July 2003 meeting unanimously approved approximately 800 new civil jury instructions and special verdict forms for use in California trial courts. In introducing the instructions, Chief Justice Ronald M. George stated, “The new plain English jury instructions are a major contribution to the Judicial Council’s historic efforts to reform the California jury system. The new simplified jury instructions will help ensure that jurors understand the law and apply it correctly during their deliberations."
Munsterman, G.Thomas, Paula Hannaford-Agor, and G. Marc Whitehead. Jury Trial Innovations. (1997). 200 pages.

Jury Trial Innovations brings you up-to-date on the most recent techniques and ideas for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of jury trials. Topics include using plain language instead of legalese during trial and when drafting juror instructions.

Plain Language: Before and After Jury Proceedings. This site provides examples to improve the jurors' understanding of court instructions before and after jury proceedings.