Scots councils turn to Plain English for lessons in straight talking

January 10, 2003

Universities and colleges north of the border may be in for a shock in this year's grant letters. Their two funding councils cannot guarantee more money, but they are promising lucid prose.

The councils have just undergone training by the Plain English Campaign and have pledged to get their message across more clearly and simply.

This will include beginning sentences with "and" or "but", using initial capital letters as rarely as possible, avoiding pompous or redundant words and undoubtedly dropping such infamous phrases as "migration strategies may be dysfunctional".

Laurence Howells, director of strategy and corporate affairs for the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, said: "We're not in the worst league, but on the other hand, [the campaign trainers] were very keen to see us do a lot better."

The councils have always prided themselves on openness, and the trainers have not accused them of deliberate obfuscation, Mr Howells said. "Their criticism was that we were taking far too long to get to the point."

He believes the education system must take a share of the blame for encouraging people to overwrite. "You're told to write an essay in 3,000 words, so you write 3,000 words whether or not they're needed. If we can communicate in a way that means the average academic can quickly get the sense of what we're trying to do, I think we'll do ourselves a service."

Graeme Davies, principal of Glasgow University and a former head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, welcomed Shefc's commitment to plain English.

"It will make its many publications even more accessible to hard-pressed academics - the saving in reading length will be a real efficiency gain."

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