A book I turn to time and again as a reference is “Error Free Writing” (R. Cormier, Prentice Hall), which unfortunately, has been out of print for some time. While checking on an particular point of editing, I came across the following excerpt from The Editorial Eye. I think it does a great job of driving home the need for “plain language”.
As the story goes, a New York City plumber once wrote to the Bureau of Standards to report the success he had in using hydrochloric acid to clean out clogged drainpipes. Responding in typical government fashion, the bureau wrote, “The efficacy of hydrochloric acid is indisputable, but the corrosive residue is incompatible with metallic permanence.”
When the plumber wrote back to say how pleased he was that the bureau agreed with him, the bureau urgently responded, “We cannot assume responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue as a result of using hydrochloric acid and suggest you use an alternative procedure.”
This second letter made the plumber even happier with his discovery, so once again he wrote to say how glad he was that the bureau liked his idea. This time the bureau broke down and used plain language to warn the plumber: “Don’t use hydrochloric acid. It eats the hell out of the pipes.”
Plain language. A novel concept. Goes a long way towards fostering understanding.