Plain Language and Ethical Action: A Dialogic Approach to Technical Content in the 21st Century, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Plain Language and Ethical Action

A Dialogic Approach to Technical Content in the 21st Century, 1st Edition

By Russell Willerton


202 pages

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Plain Language and Ethical Action examines and evaluates principles and practices of plain language that technical content producers can apply to meet their audiences’ needs in an ethical way. Applying the BUROC framework (Bureaucratic, Unfamiliar, Rights-Oriented, and Critical) to identify situations in which audiences will benefit from plain language, this work offers in-depth profiles show how six organizations produce effective plain-language content. The profiles show plain-language projects done by organizations ranging from grassroots volunteers on a shoe-string budget, to small nonprofits, to consultants completing significant federal contacts. End-of-chapter questions and exercises provide tools for students and practitioners to reflect on and apply insights from the book. Reflecting global commitments to plain language, this volume includes a case study of a European group based in Sweden along with results from interviews with plain-language experts around the world, including Canada, England, South Africa. Portugal, Australia, and New Zealand.

This work is intended for use in courses in information design, technical and professional communication, health communication, and other areas producing plain language communication. It is also a crucial resource for practitioners developing plain-language technical content and content strategists in a variety of fields, including health literacy, technical communication, and information design.


This book offers a thoroughgoing examination of the reciprocal relationship of plain language and dialogic ethics in technical communication. The reviews of research here are perceptive and meticulous, the interviews with international communicators are provocative, and the organization profiles are instructive and inspiring. Willerton offers us a promising portrait of the field—of clear and simple words making the lives of people better in theory and in practice. Sam Dragga, Professor, Texas Tech University

In this deeply researched and yet absolutely practical book, Willerton presents a thorough and fascinating consideration of issues of ethics and plain language. You'll want to review his six case studies, learn his BUROC model, and think deeply about the questions he raises. Whether you are a teacher, student, or writing professional, you will find this book adds a critical dimension to your approach to all your work. Dr. Janice (Ginny) Redish, author, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works

Skeptical at first, Willerton’s book changed how I think about plain language. Russell accumulates evidence and events; national and global sites; and learned and organizational perspectives that make plain language and its implementation an irresistible addition to the field. Plain language is an important element of professional and technical communication, an assertion I am confident making only after reading Plain Language and Ethical Action.

Obfuscation beware! Michael J. Salvo, Associate Professor, Purdue University

Plain Language and Ethical Action is a refreshing synthesis of the informal conversations we’ve been having about what makes plain language a movement rather than simply a process or technique. I don’t hesitate to recommend this book to clear communication proponents. Iva Cheung

This book is a timely and needed reinvigoration of plain language within TPC research…The book closely aligns scholars and practice. For Willerton, TPC is a rhetorical and humanistic enterprise, and plain language can help to advance the profession's broader ethical commitment to clear, accessible communication. Kira Dreher, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication

The book empower[s] writers and users to work together in producing technically accurate and ethically sound documents.

Donald R. Roccomini, Santa Clara University

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables

Series Editor Foreword



Chapter 1. Understanding Plain Language and Opportunities to Use It

Chapter 2. Overview of Ethics in the Technical and Professional Communication Literature

Chapter 3. Perspectives on Plain Language and Ethics from Professionals around the World

Chapter 4. Profile: Healthwise, Inc.

Chapter 5. Profile: Civic Design

Chapter 6. Profile: Restyling the Federal Rules of Evidence

Chapter 7. Profile: CommonTerms

Chapter 8. Profile: Health Literacy Missouri

Chapter 9. Profile: Kleimann Communication Group and TILA-RESPA Documentation

Chapter 10. Public Examples of Dialogic Communication in Clear Language in the 21st Century

Chapter 11. Conclusion


About the Author

Russell Willerton teaches in the technical communication program at Boise State University. He has published articles on visual communication, white papers in high-tech industries, and online health information.

About the Series

ATTW Series in Technical and Professional Communication

The ATTW Series in Technical and Professional Communication publishes interesting and useful work in a wide range of topics related to technical and professional communication (TPC), including but not limited to the following: assessment of TPC programs, content management systems, globalization of TPC, human-computer interaction, intercultural communication, health-care and medical communication, pedagogy of TPC, publication management, risk and crisis communication, service learning in TPC, technical and professional editing, translation of TPC, usability/user-experience and accessibility studies, visual communication, and web design and development.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Communication Studies