Jun 20, 2023 | Plain Language Institute

International Organization For Standardization Approves First Plain Language Standard

The standard will help people around the world access and use information.

June 20, 2023 — Today, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) formally approved its first international plain language standard. The new standard will help improve written communication for everyone. All industries and sectors benefit from improved communication. This is particularly important in legal, health, public policy, government and corporate communications, where information influences critical decisions and people’s rights. 

  • For the public, the standard aims to improve communication while promoting equity and access to information for global audiences. 
  • For writers and communications professionals across all sectors, the new standard provides nearly universal plain language principles, guidelines and techniques to create accessible and effective communications.

Economic benefits of plain language include increased efficiency and increased effectiveness.

The international plain language standard was developed by a working group that is part of ISO’s Technical Committee 37. The group of 50 plain language experts, representing 16 countries, drafted and advocated for the standard, with the support of the International Plain Language Federation.

“A plain language standard provides a clear understanding of what plain language is and how you can achieve it. This standard will help you provide your intended readers with information they can easily find, understand and use,” said Neil James (Australia), who chairs the International Plain Language Federation.

The new plain language standard can be used by federal, state or local governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals interested in adopting and applying plain language. The standard must be purchased. You can buy a copy of the standard through your country’s standard-setting body, or directly from the ISO store.

The international standard creates a universal plain language guide that everyone can use. Christopher Balmford (Australia) is the convener of Working Group 11, the group of experts that developed the standard for ISO (the convener chairs the working group). Balmford says, “This standard is based on an internationally accepted definition of plain language. It was developed by an international committee of experts and is based on empirical evidence.”

And it’s not just for one language, as Balmford notes. “This standard is versatile and easy to use. It works in most languages and cultures, and in all sectors.”

The Federation set up the Localization and Implementation Committee to help people as they work to translate and localize the standard, and get it endorsed or adopted by their countries’ standards organizations. 

Gael Spivak (Canada), the chair of this committee, says, “The language-neutral standard can be localized to reflect differences in languages and cultures. Members of the committee are able to talk about progress in their own countries and compare experiences, sharing what is working well.” The committee’s findings and experiences have been documented to share with others and anyone can contact the committee to get help.

About the International Plain Language Federation

The International Plain Language Federation was established in 2007 as a joint project of three organizations: the Center for Plain Language, Clarity and Plain Language Association International (PLAIN). The Federation is managed by a board made up of representatives of these three member organizations. The Federation’s goal is to advance plain language as a profession.

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