Editing for plain English: Completely rewriting
Nature of edit To edit the text into plain English
Type of copy Information from a private eye clinic (not a clinic for detectives – that would be a private-eye clinic!)
At your consultation it may be necessary for you to have eye drops which mean that you will be unable to drive and therefore you will need to arrange for transportation home following your examination.
Warning: don't drive yourself home
The doctor may put drops in your eyes, which will affect your vision. So please don't try to drive yourself home afterwards – arrange other transport instead.
Problem and solution
This example shows that plain-English editing often involves rewriting text completely. The aim is to express the writer's intended meaning as clearly and succinctly as possible for the intended audience.
Looking in more detail at the edits, you can see that the editor has:
- changed the heading from 'Please note' (which is empty of meaning and use) to one that is predictive – that is, it enables the skimming, scanning reader to find the bit they want
- reduced the overall word count by 6 words (almost one-sixth – this would cut down a longer document by quite a few pages)
- split a long sentence of 35 words into 2 shorter ones of 13 words each
- deleted the redundant phrases 'at your consultation' (which is obvious), 'it may be necessary' (as it's safe to assume the clinic wouldn't do this just for fun) and 'following your examination' (as you'd hope the patient wouldn't leg it before then)
- specified who will put the drops in your eyes (though we'd need to ask the writer whether our assumption was correct – for example, it may be a nurse), so reassuring the reader and allowing the use of a verb that describes an action ('put') rather than state ('have')
- removed the ambiguous phrase 'which mean ...' (which could apply to the drops themselves rather than the process of having them)
- changed the elaborate 'transportation' to the simpler and more familiar 'transport'
- changed 'therefore' to 'so', and the longer verb phrase 'you will need to arrange' to the shorter, simpler and more direct imperative 'arrange'.