By Annie Burger Boshoff

The 2024 Hey Plain Jane #plainlanguage reading list

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A shelf full of wonderfully colourful books

If you want to learn more about plain language, but don’t know where to start, here’s a list of our top ten plain language reads and where to find them: 


Thesis: Burger, J.M. 2018. The effect of iteratively applying plain language techniques in forms and their terms and conditions. Unpublished MA thesis. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University. 

What’s it about? In this research, Dr Annie Burger-Boshoff marked our homework and analysed a plain language investment form that we created. Her thesis looks at the iterative nature of plain language application – that it is never really done, merely finished for now.  

Where to get it: Just ask us for it. It’ll be the easiest way to get it.  



Article: Cheek, A. 2010. Defining plain language. Clarity, 64:5-15. 

What’s it about? Before we had the amazing International Plain Language Federation’s definition of plain language (more on that later), Annetta Cheek was laying the foundations for what plain language is and isn’t. This article explains the origins of the definition we use today. 

Where to get it: Download it here. 



Article: Cornelius, E. 2010a. Plain language as alternative textualisation. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 28(2):171-183. 

What’s it about? Eleanor Cornelius is one of the leaders in plain language research in South Africa. In this article, she analyses a booklet about a new piece of legislation to see whether the text is accessible to non-mother tongue speakers with limited exposure to the law. 

Where to get it: Get it here. 



Book: Cutts, M. 2020. The Oxford Guide to Plain English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

What’s it about? Martin Cutts, plain English advocate, gives practical guidelines on applying plain language, including lessons on word use, punctuation, grammar and layout. The book also includes a bunch of before and after examples to show what plain language can do.  

Where to get it: Martin Cutts is very busy. Find out more about The Oxford Guide to Plain English, as well as a whole list of other resources here. 



Article: De Stadler, E. & Van Zyl, L. 2017. Plain-language contracts: challenges and opportunities. SA Mercantile Law Journal, 29(1):95-127. 

What’s it about? Here we go again shamelessly plugging our own work. But it’s good, we promise. In this article, we discuss the tension that exists between lawyers and plain language practitioners – and how all too often this results in legal documents still being written in mind-numbing legalese. 

Where to get it: If you have access, you can get it here. Or just ask us for it. 



Definition: International Plain Language Federation Definition of Plain Language 

What’s it about? If you call yourself a plain language enthusiast, you must know what the International Plain Language Federation’s definition of plain language is.  

Where to get it: Check it out here. 



Blog post: James, N. 2016. The arguments against plain English. Plain English Foundation. 

What’s it about? This blog post sets out all the criticisms that the plain language community receives and why they aren’t true. It’ll give you ammunition to answer any anti-plain language argument and help you change opinions.   

Where to get it: Read it here. 



Article: Kimble, J. 2000. The great myth that plain language is not precise. The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, 109-118.  

What’s it about? “In Joseph Kimble we trust”. That’s our company motto. In this seminal work, Kimble untangles the opinion that plain language is not as precise as legalese. He uses a real-life example of how legalese is in fact (like duh, but why don’t people believe us?) less precise than plain language. This is another great article to convince others of the benefits of plain language. 

Where to get it: Read it here. 



Article: Schriver, K.A. 1990. Document design from 1980 to 1990: challenges that remain. Technical Communication, 36(4):316-333.  

What’s it about? We can’t talk about plain language without talking about Karen Schriver. In this article, Schriver, the queen of document analysis and design, sets out the history of the field. Plain language sprung out of these ideas (A note from Annie: fight me if you don’t agree), so it is a great history lesson for all the plain language newbies.  

Where to get it: Get it here 



ISO standard: ISO 24495-1:2023 – Plain language – Part 1: Governing principles and guidelines 

What’s it about? If you haven’t heard about the ISO plain language standard, where have you been? It’s all anyone in the field has been talking about since its debut in June 2023. We highly recommend that you buy it. The ISO standard sets out four governing principles for plain language, as well as a variety of practical guidelines.  

Where to get it: Buy the ISO standard here. 


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