Many people worry that converting a document to plain English involves “dumbing it down” or leaving out important information. I hope these samples of converted disclosure documents will dispel those concerns, and also demonstrate what a marked improvement a plain English conversion can make.
This long block of text from a Compensation Discussion and Analysis contains a lot of information. The reader is bound to get lost. In addition to cleaning up the language, I added white space and broke out some of the detail into a bulleted list so that it is easy to find and digest.
This section describes two separate incentive compensation plans, but you would never know that from the single header. More important, the reader cannot understand the plan for the top five officers (which is discussed in the first paragraph and the beginning of the second) without first understanding the base plan for the company’s other officers. In my rewrite, the description of the base plan comes first. My version is longer than the original, but I think it’s considerably easier to follow.
This is a classic “end of press release” paragraph. But look at how many words lie between the name of the company and the statement of what it does. Similarly, revenue figures for the period are too important to bury in the middle of that complex sentence.
This paragraph from a Management’s Discussion and Analysis contains too much information. Moreover, the company refers to three sophisticated types of securities (callables, mortgage-backed securities, and collateralized mortgage obligations) without defining the terms, and talks about four types of risk (interest rate, option, prepayment, and extension) without explaining what they are. My version is longer, but I think the extra words are necessary if the reader is to understand the disclosure. I also broke the single paragraph into digestible chunks of information, which makes the discussion look less daunting.
This paragraph from a Management’s Discussion and Analysis would be easier to understand if the sentences were in a more logical sequence. The bold subheads I added help too.
This paragraph from a mutual fund prospectus contains three distinct concepts, and all are complicated enough to warrant fairly long sentences. It would be easier to understand each concept if it was presented by itself. In addition, my version speaks directly to the shareholder (“your federal income tax” and “your dividends”).
The definition of “potential problem bonds” in the first paragraph of this excerpt from a Management’s Discussion and Analysis is not helpful without the definition of “problem bonds,” which does not appear until the second paragraph. Also, in order to understand the numbers, you need to track three sets of figures (a gross amount, a write-off, and an allocation of the gross amount between policyholders and the insurance company) for two years. It is much more effective to present that kind of information in a chart.
This “safe harbor” statement contains a string of information that would be more obvious — and perhaps provide better protection — if it were converted to a bullet list.