ISO on Plain Language

In June 2023, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 24495-1 Plain language — Part 1: Governing principles and guidelines.

Scope of ISO 24495

ISO 24495:

  • establishes governing principles and guidelines for developing plain language documents. The guidelines detail how the principles are interpreted and applied.
  • is for anybody who creates or helps create documents. The widest use of plain language is for documents that are intended for the general public. However, it is also applicable, for example, to technical writing, legislative drafting or using controlled languages.

The document covers the essential elements of plain language, but:

  • applies only to printed or digital information that is primarily in the form of text. However, creators of other types of communications, such as podcasts and videos, might find this document useful.
  • does not include existing technical guidance about accessibility and digital documents, although the guidance can apply to both.
  • is now available in English and French. It gives examples only in one language (English or English), but its principles are intended to apply to most, if not all, written languages.

What is plain language?

ISO 24495 defines plain language as follows: ‘A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.’

The IPLF has so far translated that definition into Afrikaans, Catalan, Chinese (Cantonese), Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Irish Gaelic, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Norwegian (both Nynorsk and Bokmål), Polish,Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovakian, Spanish and Turkish. Plain Language – International Plain Language Federation (iplfederation.org) (page viewed 25 June 2023)

Content

According to the International Plain Language Federation:

  • the guidance includes many plain language practices that are not language-related, such as focusing on what readers need to know, using a logical sequence, and using techniques to organize and design a document.  
  • the guidance relating to language is high level, and not specific to any one language. For example, the standard talks about using culturally relevant language, using words that your readers know, and using clear sentences.

Most of the text of ISO 24495 is behind a paywall at https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/en/#iso:std:78907:en

Adopting the Standard nationally

A country’s standards body that is a member of ISO can adopt the standard as a standard for their country, possibly with minor changes. For more detail, please see the section Localizing the ISO standard of the PLAIN e-journal issue called Standards, training, certification: An update from the International Plain Language Federation.  pl_2021_e-journal_vol3_no2.pdf (plainlanguagenetwork.org)

A country’s standards body can also translate the standard.

This is only Part 1

The current standard comprises only Part 1. ISO may add further parts addressing, for example:

  • a particular sector of the economy, such as legal writing and drafting.
  • further details on plain language practices, such as information design.

ISO
For more on the ISO and the ISO’s codes that designate languages, please see Russian: an official language at the ISO – Language Miscellany

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