ClearText is a text editor that limits you to the 1,000 most common English words. It was inspired by Randall Munro’s Thing Explainer, in which he explains complicated things like tectonic plates, microwaves, and the solar system using only those 1,000 words.

Why would you want this?

  1. For your website. Unless your potential clients are lawyers, using legalese and five-dollar words on your website will probably turn them off. Try using ClearText to force yourself to use words your potential clients are more likely to understand.
  2. For effective legal writing. Legalese is a plague. It makes justice less accessible by making it hard for non-lawyers to figure out what is going on in legal documents and courtrooms. And it makes your writing harder for anyone to understand, including other lawyers and judges. Try writing a brief or contract in ClearText to make it easier to read.

Is it practical? Probably not. Actually it’s kind of frustrating. One thousand words aren’t a lot, it turns out. I thought it would be fun to write this post in ClearText, but I gave up.

If you have to do verbal gymnastics instead of just explaining what liability is and then using that word, you aren’t actually increasing readability. You are probably better off running your website copy through a Flesch–Kincaid readability tester like Flesh and aiming for about a sixth-grade reading level.

Still, give it a try. See if you can write your website bio or describe your practice area in ClearText. After all, nobody should have to reach for a dictionary just to find out who you are and what you do.

4 responses to “ClearText: Write with Words People Can Actually Understand”

  1. Chad Murray says:

    I tried to the word “debt” and it shot me down. So it’s impossible for me to use professionally without writing around a 4 letter word everyone understands that accounts for about a third of my practice.


  2. Sam, you make some good points in this article about readability and how tools like this are unlikely to increase readability in any real way.

    As others have said, legal drafting is really horses for courses. Even in my own bio or firm practice areas, which should be easily understood, I’m going to use language that appeals to the audience that I’m targeting. That means I’ll try to use language that they use, not just an arbitrary set of “simple” words assessed by reference to the entire world (unless a marketing team wrote the bio, of course, in which case it will be bland and uninspiring).

    For some practice areas and target demographics that might mean keeping things very simple. But for others, perhaps not.

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