February 20, 2012

Part 4: History of Plain Language in Canada

This post continues to review plain language activities in Canada.

3. Needs of economy and workforce

The reason I have for choosing this title for this category is political. It takes money to carry out new initiatives and the federal government has been an important source of plain language activities.

The Conservative Party only supports plain language activity, and rarely, if it can be directly tied to economic issues. Even that argument for improving communication has started to loose their support.



Early surveys of literacy showed that clear presentation and simple wording made information available to people who had low literacy skills. Those people found reading difficult and they would avoid reading seek information from other sources. With the new evidence to support the use of plain language, the literacy professional community was inspired. Ruth Baldwin for the Ontario Literacy Coalition wrote an influential pamphlet, Clear Writing and Literacy.

Local literacy groups began offering plain language workshops to community organizers in 1984. The National Adult Literacy Database (NALD.ca) started collecting resources about plain language and providing them free of charge in 1989. The Clear Language and Design public education service, of the Centre for Community Learning and Development, has trained many plain language writers since 1995.

In 1995, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a groundbreaking survey that measured adult literacy levels and literacy practices among seven OECD nations, including Canada. Their report Literacy, Economy and Society: Results of the First International Adult Literacy Survey helped launch more support and activity in plain language.


The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) published a bibliography of Plain Language Resource Materials in 1990. In 1999, they published a Directory of Plain Language Health Information . The CPHA is a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association with links to the international public health community. Since 1997, it has operated a consultancy, the Plain Language Service.

The Canadian government has taken a renewed interest in plain language in the health field in the current century because it is seen as creating cost-savings. Plain language information provides improved health, efficiencies, and cost-savings in the health industry. The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health promotes plain language and publishes plain-language versions of Common Drug Review recommendations.


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