Advice from the SEC’s expert on plain English

The SEC has tapped William Lutz to lead its “21st Century Disclosure Initiative.”

In honor of his appointment, here’s his “Rules for Writing Plain English: How You Can Write Plain Language by Just Following These 39 Steps” (2018 update: sorry, but his article is no longer available on the website of the Plain Language Association International).

Writing plain English isn’t as easy as the title suggests.

For example, Step 5 is “Keep equivalent items parallel.” Even if you understand what that means, I’ll bet that many people don’t. The article offers a good example of parallel structure. Each of the 39 steps begins with a verb in the same tense. Each uses an imperative verb–a verb that commands you to do something. Parallelism can involve more than just tense, as you’ll see in the Online Writing Lab’s explanation of parallel structures. Using parallel structure in lists makes it easier for your readers to understand you.

Generally, “less is more” applies to writing. But sometimes deleting words can land you in trouble. Lutz gives a good example of that with the “whiz-deletion” he describes at the bottom of his article.