Legal material

This resource is an archived version of the Readability Guidelines.

New wiki is at:
Go to the Legal, medical and financial terms page.


1. When a part of a law is referred to you should include explanatory information showing what the law is about, instead of only referring to it in a reference section or appendix.

2. Use simple explanations for complex terms.


This content is positioned at the top of a form, not hidden away in references section.

"We collect personal information on this form under section 26 the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, because it concerns our programs and activities (c), and it is necessary for planning and evaluating our programs and activities(e)."


[Subheading] "Direct sales contract — exemptions from application of the Act"

[Body copy] "5 (1) This section describes direct sellers that are, and circumstances in which direct sellers are, exempt from the application of sections 19 to 22 (required contents, direct sales contracts, direct sales contract — cancellation, credit agreement respecting direct sales contract] of the Act."

Usability evidence

Over the years, judges have tried to figure out what the legal writers intended their writing to mean. They evolved a set of tools to do this analysis: Statutory Interpretation. When we write in plain English, we intend the meaning to be so clear that judges don’t have to resort to these, sometimes contradictory, interpretations.

'Joseph Kimble—No, the law does not (normally) require legalese' Editing Goes Global, 2015. Professor Joseph Kimble discusses the "psuedo-precision of legalese".

Plain language: the underlying research, Karen Schriver slide presentation, pages 29 to 35.

The public speaks: an empirical study of legal communication, study by Christopher Trudeau (@proftrudeau on Twitter) containing case studies from solicitors about using legal language.

Richmond vs HRA A pharmaceutical company called Richmond took the Health Regulatory Authority to court because the website was confusing. A high court judge deemed the site 'unlawful' and ruled against the government. The site was cleared through a legal department. This set a precedent in the UK. Just because all the legal language is there, doesn't mean you can't be sued.

Plain English Campaign The Plain English Campaign argues that legalese is unnecessary and does not do what it was intended to. 'The argument that clarity should be sacrificed for a document to be comprehensive does not stand up.'

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