Transparency or clarity?

Some musings on plain language by Deborah Bosley, Firehead’s own plain language instructor

I have to admit that every time I hear a corporation or government agency or, come on, anyone talk about “transparency”, my B.S. radar starts buzzing. 

You can be “transparent” but in a way that no one understands what you’re saying or no one can understand your content. Being transparent means that you’ve disclosed what must be disclosed, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing it in a way that’s also clear and easy to understand. 

I like to say, “Transparency means you disclosed it; clarity means people can understand it.” Not the same thing at all.

A myriad of U.S. and E.U. regulations require that privacy policies, terms and conditions, and other disclosures be written in plain language. And yet, these documents are usually so full of jargon, long/complex sentences, dense paragraphs, and so visually unappealing that (here it comes)

“Nearly six in 10 (58%) adults said they would rather read an instruction manual or their utility or credit card bill than go through online terms. Forty-three percent of those who don’t always read the terms and conditions say they are boring or difficult to understand.”

Do T&Cs (or other disclosures) reveal what needs to be revealed to be “transparent”? Yes. Are they clear and easy to understand? No.

So the next time your company or agency gets all caught up in branding themselves as “transparent,” think about what that means and then go make what’s transparent also clear.

If you’d like to learn more about clear writing and communication, Firehead offers a full range of plain language training to develop your skills in many areas, such as:

  • General concepts to improve your communication
  • Health Communication
  • Academic writing
  • Legal writing
  • Business communication
  • Financial communication

Want to know more? 

Firehead has a new course introducing the principles of plain language by world famous plain language expert Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D.

Come join us to learn how to get started with plain language in your organisation!

download our free checklist to Plain Language

Found out top tips and strategies to create better content.  


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