Clear Language Revolution

Well maybe not a revolution but certainly an evolution. An evolution towards making research accessible to a variety of extra-academic decision makers through the use of clear language.

We thought we were being oh so clever 2 years ago when we “piloted” clear language research summaries see our blog from May 2009. We are proud of the 93 clear language research summaries we call ResearchSnapshots we have in our web accessible database. Our work was recently validated by the reported use of ResearchSnapshots by AUCC and YRDSB.

However, there really are no new ideas.

Enter the Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN). “Formed in 1993 as the Plain Language Network, the Plain Language Association International is a growing volunteer nonprofit organization of plain-language advocates, professionals, and organizations committed to plain language.” PLAIN has its mailing address in Ottawa, Canada so it appears that Canada is well represented in this initiative.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) also has identified plain language (plain, clear…toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe) as a priority and even hold an annual competition for plain language instruments (letters, brochures, Web sites, press releases, scientific papers, reports…). Read about the NIH plain language initiative and awards here.

But wait, there’s more.

There’s even a US federal government wide initiative for clear language. has a mandate to improve communication from the federal government to the public. Apparently plain language Clear language writing and design principles date back to 1953 [Mazur, B., 2000. Revisiting Plain Language. Technical Communication. 47 (2): 205-211 (30 May 2010].

Who knew?

We didn’t know. But what we do know is that with a growing movement towards knowledge mobilization and enhancing the extra-academic impact of research, the use of clear language to enhance access to academic research will continue to evolve. Academics and their KMb support service units such as those at ResearchImpact universities will increasingly use clear language, videos, blogs and other non-traditional research dissemination tools to get the results of research into the hands of decision makers.

After 2 years of producing and using clear language research summaries we have developed a list of recommendations for different research stakeholders. This is what we think clear language writing and design can mean to you.

Audience Message
Universities and Research Institutions
  • clear language research summaries can be used as communication vehicles to clearly communicate the results of research to non-academic research audiences (=knowledge transfer)
  • clear language research summaries serve as introductions to research expertise that may lead to future research collaborations (=knowledge mobilization)
  • York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies is exploring offering clear language writing to a wide range of graduate students, primarily at the Master’s level, to develop clear language writing as a skill for students
Research Funding Organizations
  • clear language research summaries can be used as communication vehicles to clearly communicate the outcomes of investments in research to parliamentarians, donors and other funders
  • clear language research summary frameworks can be used to solicit end of grant research reports from grant recipients
Knowledge Transfer and Exchange organizations
Graduate Students
  • learning to write complex research in clear language is a key skill for graduate students, especially those not proceeding to a career of academic scholarship
University Researchers (faculty)
  • until your university provides incentives for and rewards KMb activities leave the clear language writing to trained knowledge brokers
  • advocate for professional KMb services at your university including clear language research summaries
Community Based Researchers
  • as opposed to university-based research, community-based research is inherently change oriented.  Clear language research summaries are one tool to communicate research to decision makers. Learn to write in clear language.
Literacy Practitioners
  • Develop skills in clear language training to offer to local researchers and community-based decision makers
Community and government decision makers
  • Seek out clear language research summaries to connect to research and research expertise to inform decision making

4 Responses to “Clear Language Revolution”

written by Cheryl Stephens On 13 July 2010 Reply

Thanks for acknowledging PLAIN which I founded in 1993 in Vancouver and is now very international.

I have just released a 200-page book, which 18 international experts contributed to, called Plain Language in Plain English which you can read about and buy at or

written by David Phipps On 13 July 2010 Reply

Thanks for letting us know. We’ll take a look at the book you mention above. Let us know if you’re active on any standard social media channels (do you have a blog, are you on twitter) so we can follow each others’ work.

written by Cheryl Stephens On 13 July 2010 Reply

Supporters of plain language online have these connections:

Twitter #plainlanguage
LinkedIn “Plain Language Advocates”
My blog at
Group blog at
Hardcore PLAIN listserve at

And the US non-profit Center for Plain Language which sponsored the recent contest has a blog and twitter feed.

written by David Phipps On 14 July 2010 Reply

Thanks Cheryl…look for us to follow you soon.

Leave a Comment