Published: 10/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5942 Page 22

Sarah Carr, Carr Consultancy

The Translator (End Game, 20 January) reports that the Plain English Campaign gave a Golden Bull award to the Department of Health for its 67-word sentence defining a container. The value for money unit of the NHS Directorate at the Welsh Office won the same award in 1993 for using 158 words to define a bed.

Both documents have been criticised. But when a technical document uses apparently ordinary words to mean something much more specific, it makes sense to define them. The nonsense lies not in defining, but in doing so in such a long-winded and unclear way.

The regulations say: 'Container, in relation to an investigational medicinal product, means the bottle, jar, box, packet or other receptacle which contains or is to contain it, not being a capsule, cachet or other article in which the product is or is to be administered, and where any such receptacle is or is to be contained in another such receptacle, includes the former but does not include the latter receptacle.' Try instead: 'By the term 'container', we mean the bottle, jar, box, packet or other object for containing the drug. The term does not include capsules, cachets or other objects in which the patient takes the drug. Nor does the term include any other layer of packaging outside the 'container'.'