“Plain Language”

June 8th, 2018

(Click for Video)


Cities are notorious for producing documents that are thick and hard to understand. If you ask most city staff if they know what’s in their ordinances very few even know. For some reason, it has become commonplace to make city code inaccessible to the average citizen because it has become cryptic and hard to understand.

The good news is that the state of Utah has noticed this and has a remedy to the problem. This remedy takes the form of “Plain Language”, or simple everyday speech. So, instead of municipal code being filled with heretofore and insofar, or even hereunto appertaining, its is filled with normal words.

Take this simple example from the video:

From this

“This shall not NULLIFY more restrictive PROVISIONS of covenants, agreements or other ordinances or laws, but shall PREVAIL whenever such provisions are less restrictive.”

To this

“This Ordinance will not replace more restrictive requirements of covenants, agreements or other ordinances or laws, but will be used whenever other requirements are less restrictive.”

We try to eliminate words that scare off the average reader and replace them with words that they are used to seeing. Some may be scared of this change in language since it is not what they are used to seeing. A main concern cities bring up is that code loses its validity or may not be defensible in court without this language, but that is not true. In fact, agencies that have implemented plain language in their documents have seen an increase in efficiency in their work with the public.

Recently, we have been contracted by a few cities to help them with this work and we are excited to see what effects the final products have ourselves! If this sounds like something your city would be interested in don’t be afraid to contact us and ask some questions.