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 In the guidelines released on July 19, 2005 concerning Plain English and disclosure documents, the SEC turned its regulatory concerns from the substance to the presentation format of the disclosure. In essence, the SEC’s “Plain English” guidelines sought to give interested readers the chance to understand in simple language the complex information contained in the disclosure documents. Indeed, poor writing has the possibility of obscuring meaning sought after in the documents. Baroque writing style clouds the truth thereby undercutting compelled disclosure policy. In brief, non-plain English prevents the intention of the message conveyed from reaching the audience. The SEC principles of disclosure language encourage logical document structure, tight sentence structure, appealing design, direct tone, active voice, and word economy (SEC, 2005). In other words, Securities and Exchange disclosure documents should be read with ease devoid of jargon vocabulary.

SEC’s Plain-English guidelines govern writing style and the manner in which information such as charts, statistical graphics and tables are presented in the annual reports or prospectuses. As explained by Ricky Lowry, making these disclosure documents readable does not amount to watering them down. Revising previous prospectuses may be time consuming and requires a lot of effort as well as extensive rewriting at times. Plain English in companies’ disclosures demands the following:

  1. Text Information
  • Use of simple English in writing the titles in the front covers of the disclosures, as well as the back covers, risk factor sections of prospectuses and summary writing. The utilization of active voice and stronger verbs are highly recommended by the guidelines.
  • Information should be presented in concise sentences and paragraphs. If possible, bullet lists should be used with short explanatory sentences.
  • Description of specific disclosures should have subheadings or captions in the sections for easy identification and understanding.
  •  Legal terms and technical business language should not find their way in the disclosures.
  • If technical vocabulary must be used, then definition should be provided in the glossary section for clarity for the meanings of terminologies that are not familiar (Lowry, 2000).
  1. Rules for graphics

Fancy designs may distort clear presentation that translates into complexities in understanding graphics. The SEC guidelines advocate for simplicity of graphics in the disclosure documents to avoid such difficulties. To achieve this objective, the following proposals should be adhered to:

  • All graphics should start at a zero baseline to avoid distorting correct proportions.
  • All graphics should be drawn to scale for correct proportionality
  • Graphics data [presentation should be done in a single unit (for instance, in billions, millions of dollars) to avoid misleading readers
  • Graphics with the intent of showing periodic information should flow forward (January…..June)
  • Data presented in tables should be organized in such a way that enables quick deciphering. Presentation of stock markets and their returns for instance should be done according to the magnitude of the returns in descending order as opposed to alphabetical order of names of the markets.

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