Clarity and Accuracy
An excerpt from the essay “Wrong—Again—About Plain Language” by Joseph Kimble; written in defense of Plain Language legislation and in response to an attacker:
Advocates believe that “it is more important to be clear . . . than to be accurate.”
This charge could not be more wrong. I responded to Mr. Stark on this same point 18 years ago. No reputable advocate has ever said that clarity trumps accuracy. Yes, I have said, “Your main goal is to convey your ideas with the greatest possible clarity.” But of course I mean “convey your ideas accurately.” Nobody who knows my work — or the work of any other advocate — could possibly think otherwise. We all take the need for accuracy as blindingly obvious. But we do think that, with rare exceptions, clarity and accuracy are complementary — not competing — goals. As Reed Dickerson, the father of modern-day legal drafting, wryly put it: “The price of clarity, of course, is that the clearer the document the more obvious its substantive deficiencies.” Or in the words of another expert: “The purposes of legislation are most likely to be expressed and communicated successfully by the drafter who is ardently concerned to write clearly and to be intelligible.” Time after time, we have seen clarity improve accuracy by uncovering the ambiguities and errors that traditional drafting tends to hide. Yet if in some instance, on some point, accuracy and clarity really are at odds, then accuracy wins. It goes without saying — almost.