English Style Guide: A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission 2013

 English Style Guide: A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission 2013  [e-Book], European Commission Directorate-General for Translation.


This Style Guide is intended primarily for English-language authors and translators, both in-house and freelance, working for the European Commission. But now that so many texts in and around the EU institutions are drafted in English by native and nonnative speakers alike, its rules, reminders and handy references aim to serve a wider readership as well. In this Guide, ‘style’ is synonymous with a set of accepted linguistic conventions; it therefore refers to recommended in-house usage, not to literary style. Excellent advice on how to improve writing style is given in The Plain English Guide by Martin Cutts (Oxford University Press, 1999) and Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams (University of Chicago Press, 1995), and the European Commission’s own How to write clearly, all of which encourage the use of good plain English. See also Clear English — Tips for EU translators, Tips on translating from Slovak into English and A brief list of misused English terms in EU publications. For reasons of stylistic consistency, the variety of English on which this Guide bases its instructions and advice is the standard usage of Britain and Ireland (for the sake of convenience, called ‘British usage’ or ‘British English’ in this Guide).

The Guide is divided into two clearly distinct parts, the first dealing with linguistic conventions applicable in all contexts and the second with the workings of the European Union — and with how those workings are expressed and reflected in English. This should not be taken to imply that ‘EU English’ is different from ‘real English’; it is simply a reflection of the fact that the European Union as a unique body has had to invent a terminology to describe itself. However, the overriding aim in both parts of the Guide is to facilitate and encourage the writing of clear and reader-friendly English.

Writing in clear language can be difficult at the Commission, since much of the subject matter is complex and more and more is written in English by (and for) non-native speakers, or by native speakers who are beginning to lose touch with their language after years of working in a multilingual environment. We must nevertheless try to set an example by using language that is as clear, simple, and accessible as possible, out of courtesy to our readers and consideration for the image of the Commission.

In legislative texts, accuracy and clarity are of course paramount. But legal or bureaucratic language that we might regard as pompous elsewhere has its place in both legislation and preparatory drafting, though the specialist terms must be embedded in rock-solid, straightforward English syntax. In some cases — departmental memos or papers for specialist committees — we may regard ‘Eurospeak’ as acceptable professional shorthand; searching here for ‘plain English’ periphrases wastes time and
simply irritates readers.

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