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Make it Plain

by Karin Graham, editor

No one wants to read anything that looks like the terms of use for the average computer software. Why do we insist on writing like that? For example, here is an excerpt of the Terms of Use for the Waze app.* All words in this entire blog entry that are in boldface are my words.

WAZE PROVIDES THE SERVICE AND CONTENT INCLUDED THEREIN FOR USE ON AN “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE” BASIS. THEY CANNOT BE CUSTOMIZED TO FULFILL THE NEEDS OF EACH AND EVERY USER. WE HEREBY DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES AND REPRESENTATIONS, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, WITH RESPECT TO THE SERVICE, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, FEATURES, QUALITY, NON-INFRINGEMENT, TITLE, COMPATIBILITY, PERFORMANCE, SECURITY OR ACCURACY. We don’t promise that this GPS will work, at all.

Additionally and without derogating from the above clause, (We mean it.) Waze disclaims any warranties relating to the accuracy of the maps, Content, (We like to capitalize nouns at random.) road conditions, driving directions, or navigation routes presented or displayed in or by the Service (Just get used to them.) . For instance, traffic may be congested in roads depicted by the Service as uncongested; existing roads may be missing from the map; users may submit faulty or inaccurate Content or reports (Someone may claim that an Army tank is a speed trap and that a stampede of people fleeing a horde of zombies is a disabled car. Why would that be our fault?) Such errors and omissions are inherent to any community-based service that operates on users’ posts and on the information provided by them. (I know, right?)

You agree and acknowledge that you assume full, exclusive and sole responsibility for the use of and reliance on the Service, and you further agree and acknowledge that your use of or reliance on the Service is made entirely at your own risk. You further acknowledge that it is your responsibility to comply with all applicable laws (including traffic laws) while using the Service. You can’t drive the car into the Potomac River when the bridge is out no matter what Waze says. If we have to explain this to you, why do you even have a driver’s license?

THE INFORMATION PROVIDED BY THE SERVICE IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE THE INFORMATION PRESENTED ON THE ROAD. IN THE EVENT THAT THE INFORMATION PRESENTED ON THE ROAD (TRAFFIC LIGHTS, TRAFFIC SIGNS, POLICE PERSON, ETC.) INSTRUCTS DIFFERENTLY THAN THE SERVICE, YOU MUST NOT RELY ON THE SERVICE. If you see zombies, turn around. Do we really need to point that out through our computer app?

Waze exerts efforts (tries) to provide you with a high quality and satisfactory service. However, We (We really love to capitalize pronouns, too.) do not warrant that the Service will operate in an uninterrupted or error-free manner, or that it will always be available or free from all harmful components, or that it is safe, secured from unauthorized access to Waze’s computers, immune from damages, free of malfunctions, bugs or failures, including, but not limited to hardware failures, Software failures and Software communication failures, originating either in Waze or any of its providers. We basically already said this. But we also wanted you to know that if the Waze app suddenly develops a bad case of malware, it’s your problem.

WAZE, INCLUDING ITS OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, SHAREHOLDERS, EMPLOYEES, SUB-CONTRACTORS AND AGENTS WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGE, OR ANY OTHER DAMAGE, AND LOSS (INCLUDING LOSS OF PROFIT AND LOSS OF DATA), COSTS, EXPENSES AND PAYMENTS, EITHER IN TORT, CONTRACTUAL, OR IN ANY OTHER FORM OF LIABILITY, ARISING FROM, OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF, OR THE INABILITY TO USE THE SERVICE, OR FROM ANY FAILURE, ERROR, OR BREAKDOWN IN THE FUNCTION OF THE SERVICE, OR FROM ANY FAULT, OR ERROR MADE BY OUR STAFF OR ANYONE ACTING ON ITS BEHALF, OR FROM YOUR RELIANCE ON THE CONTENT OF THE SERVICE, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, CONTENT ORIGINATING FROM THIRD PARTIES, OR FROM ANY COMMUNICATION WITH THE SERVICE, OR WITH OTHER USERS ON OR THROUGH THE SERVICE, OR FROM ANY DENIAL OR CANCELLATION OF YOUR USER ACCOUNT, OR FROM RETENTION, DELETION, DISCLOSURE AND ANY OTHER USE OR LOSS OF YOUR CONTENT ON THE SERVICE. IN ANY EVENT, YOUR SOLE REMEDY WILL BE LIMITED TO CORRECTING SUCH ERRORS, OR MALFUNCTIONS, AND IN LIGHT OF THE RELEVANT CIRCUMSTANCES. Even if hypothetically a hundred users were to tell us that the GPS had started to invariably direct drivers to the nearest flaming sinkhole regardless of their actual destinations, your heirs can’t sue us if you drive to one and your car is immediately swallowed whole by the earth and crushed into a cube the size of a well-fed ocelot.

My edits are tongue-in-cheek, but only sort of. It really is possible to recast that language to make it immediately comprehensible.

Yes, we all really should read those terms of use. They’re contracts. We should read anything we agree to. We don’t, and that’s wrong. Make yourself one more New Year’s resolution to stop agreeing to contracts without reading them. But writing like this is partly why we don’t. Yes, Waze’s terms of service contain nothing but common sense, but how can you tell? No, really, all of that is perfectly fair: It’s a free app and people shouldn’t drive over precipices because of a software glitch, right?

Right?

I’m not picking on just Waze, here. Too many people think that the more complicated the words are, the more invulnerable to attack. So too many terms of use, too many contracts, look like this. In fact, impenetrable language is often ambiguous. And ambiguity fosters disagreement, chaos, and possibly even litigation. So ambiguity is expensive. What’s more, most of the time, an ambiguity will be construed against the drafter. So, by writing ambiguous language, you’re even putting yourself in a weaker position than the other side.

Moving along, we would hope that a job advertisement would be clear. After all, the employer wants to hire a candidate who would be the best fit for the employer. If the advertisement is nearly gibberish, how can they be sure they’re getting the best candidates? And if they aren’t, then they have to repeat the job search, which costs money and time (which is money).

This copy came from a job posting. It illustrates the desperate relevance of plain language.

The part time instructor facilitates meaningful learning of the course competencies in the curriculum and proactively supports all facets of the learning environment. S/He provides education through learning-centered instruction that will enable graduates to fulfill the evolving needs of the marketplace. S/He encourages a culture of learning that values mutual responsibility and respect, life-long learning and ethics as well as personal and professional development. This position is part time/adjunct only. Incumbent must assure that the EDMC philosophy: quality services to clients; development, growth, involvement, and recognition of employees; sound economic principles; and environment which is conducive to innovation, positive thinking and expansion – is considered in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of this position. The successful candidate will teach English to undergraduates. This is a part-time, non-tenure-track position.

Key Job Elements

  • Provides competency-based education which aligns with the EDMC model of curricula as well as supports the EDMC style of system delivery.Candidates who use phrases likestyle of system delivery to apply to a teaching methodology probably have already had the joy sucked out of their lives. As fully demoralized individuals, successful candidates will unwittingly inspire undergraduates to major in anything else. Even if the major requires listening to MacArthur Park.
  • Designs and delivers class instruction through the development of instructional plans to meet course competencies, the development of activities which support lesson objectives, and (in the case of online instructors ONLY) delivers the instruction as approved.If the instructor teaches online,they won’t have to develop their own lesson plans.
  • Enables the achievement of pre-described exit competencies for student achievement and evaluation of learning by providing instruction which fosters competencies and establish student performance criteria and evaluation.The instructor will be expected to teach English to the students. Preferably without using language like this. Because applicants who read this language may develop hives, vertigo, and that cascade of side effects listed on every package insert of every prescription medication.
  • Delivers learning-centered instruction by establishing a classroom environment conducive to learning and student involvement as well as effectively planning and preparing for classes and student success.The instructor will be expected to show up to class prepared to teach.
  • Promotes student success by showing flexibility in style and work schedule as well as exhibiting a passion for teaching and students and engaging students in the learning process.The instructor will foster a love of language in their undergraduates so that it can be ground to dust reading copy like this.
  • Manages the learning environment through keeping accurate records, submitting grades and other reports on time, and enforcing school/campus academic and attendance policies.The instructor is expected to keep the grades and attendance records confidential. They should know the difference between a grade book and Facebook.
  • Contributes to a learning culture by participating on curriculum and system task forces, supporting local campus events such as orientation and graduation, and participating in various other workshops and meetings.The candidate is applying for a non-tenure-track position. Why would you do this?
  • Relates professional/life/industry experience to learning by the continuation of professional/technical skills development, the introduction of industry perspective into courses, and the active awareness of professional/industry trends and opportunities.Relates … industry experience by the introduction of industry perspective … and the active awareness of industry trends.I don’t like this one, but I’d probably leave it alone.

The content in boldface is in, to put it mildly, informal language. But it’s possible to edit the content above so that it is as concise as the prose in boldface and as formal as you need it to be. My boldface is for illustration.

When you hire me to be your editor, we, in effect, talk about concision and clarity before you submit your content for publication. I totally understand—because I am a writer, myself—how important it is for me to have that discussion with you respectfully and kindly. Just the think of me as that really good friend who tells you that you have spinach in your teeth before it’s too late. And you do have the last word.

*This post is not about the app, itself, only about its terms of use.


Karin Graham is an experienced editor who can help you clarify your content.

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