Plain Language Workshop Professional Services Group Of Mercer County


Published on

Plain Language - the Basics. Presented to the Professional Services Group of Mercer County, October 1, 2010.

Published in: Business
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Plain Language Workshop Professional Services Group Of Mercer County

  1. 1. GreenWords Plain Language The Basics
  2. 2. GreenWords The Challenge of Obfuscation “Obfuscation is the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret.” Source: Wikipedia © GreenWords 2010
  3. 3. GreenWords Obfuscation 1974 “It is a tricky problem to find the particular calibration in timing that would be appropriate to stem the acceleration in risk premiums created by falling incomes without prematurely aborting the decline in the inflation-generated risk premiums.” - Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress in 1974 © GreenWords 2010
  4. 4. GreenWords Obfuscation 2009 “Section 682.604 is amended by revising paragraphs (c)(5), (c)(8), (f), and (g) to read as follows: § 682.604 Processing the borrower's loan proceeds and counseling borrowers. ***** (c) * * * (5) A school may not release the first installment of a Stafford loan for endorsement to a student who is enrolled in the first year of an undergraduate program of study and who has not previously received a Stafford, SLS, Direct Subsidized, or Direct Unsubsidized loan until 30 days after the first day of the student's program of study unless-- (i) Except as provided in paragraph (c)(5)(ii) of this section, the school in which the student is enrolled has a cohort default rate, calculated under subpart M of 34 CFR part 668, of less than 10 percent for each of the three most recent fiscal years for which data are available; or….” Source: Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 207 / Wednesday, October 28, 2009 / Rules and Regulations, page 55664 © GreenWords 2010
  5. 5. GreenWords Unintentional Obfuscation: Real Headlines (Really) • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures • Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges • Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks • Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
  6. 6. GreenWords The High Cost of Murky Language • Wasted time • Wasted effort • Lost productivity • Eroding customer loyalty • Lost business opportunities • Increased liability
  7. 7. GreenWords What To Do About It “When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) © GreenWords 2010
  8. 8. GreenWords Not That It’s Child’s Play “Plainness of style seems easy to imitate at first thought, but when attempted, nothing is more difficult." - Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) © GreenWords 2010
  9. 9. GreenWords A Few More Observations Albert Einstein "If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well. Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. Everything should be as simple as it can be, yet no simpler." William Zinsser, "Executives and managers at every level are prisoners of Author, “On the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Writing Well, An Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard Informal thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a Guide to Writing person too dumb or too lazy to organize his thoughts". Nonfiction” Plain Language "Plain language, also called plain English, is language that Association everyone in your audience can easily understand. Clear International writing in plain language saves time, money, and lives. You (PLAIN) need plain language whether you're preparing a legal brief, writing a procedure, designing a brochure, running a business, publishing a newsletter, managing a department, maintaining a Web site, or training workers." © GreenWords 2010
  10. 10. GreenWords Plain Language • Speeds understanding for any audience – Clear – Complete – Consistent – Economical – Unambiguous • Emphasizes simplicity and discipline in – Sentence and paragraph structures – Vocabulary – Graphics • Does not “dumb down” complex business or technical content • Allows for exceptions whenever necessary
  11. 11. GreenWords Plain Language Is Not Always “Plain” • Does not leave out important but complex information just to make a document easier to understand. • Includes all information the reader needs to make informed decisions. • Requires analyzing and deciding what information readers need to make informed decisions, before words, sentences, or paragraphs are considered. • Uses words economically and at a level the audience can understand. – Tight sentence structures – Simplest practical vocabulary – Welcoming and direct tone • Visually appealing. • Easy to read and looks like it’s meant to be read.
  12. 12. GreenWords Business Benefits of Plain Language • Makes content easier to understand • Reduces costs of correcting errors • Increases customer satisfaction • Reduces support costs • Reduces liability insurance costs • Reduces compliance cost • Reduces costs of managing information
  13. 13. GreenWords Proven Results • In a study of jury instructions given orally, plain- language improved comprehension by about 31% • In a study of medical-consent forms, plain-language revisions increased correct answers by about 91% • In a study of 4 different legal documents, plain- language techniques cut reader errors on 3 of them by about half. • In a study of an office manual for an insurance product, staff members had a fixed time to answer questions using an original and a plain-language version. On the original, they averaged 3.2 questions right; on the plain-language version, they averaged 6.6 questions right, for an improvement of 106%.
  14. 14. GreenWords Getting Started with Plain Language • Limit use of passive voice • Avoid “information-free” jargon • Use 8th Grade English for most audiences and topics – including post-doctoral • Simplify your sentences • Limit paragraphs to one topic • Use bullet lists instead of comma-separated lists • Eliminate ambiguity
  15. 15. GreenWords Passive vs. Active Voice • Passive voice – Weak and unassertive – Used to disguise or evade accountability – Usually requires long, complex sentences – Harder for less educated readers to understand – Appropriate when a thing and not a person is the actor • Active voice – Strong and assertive – Fixes accountability – Economical – More readily understood regardless of the reader’s education level – Use whenever a person is the actor
  16. 16. GreenWords Real-Life Examples Passive Active Documents were cited to State Department officials prove that an estimated 12 Active estimate the number of to 20 million illegal illegal immigrants at from 12 immigrants have been to 20 million. admitted to the United States. Talks have been conducted President Bush has proposed on the subject of starting a starting a [guest] worker worker program for the program illegal immigrants. It was communicated to me I heard it through the through the grapevine grapevine
  17. 17. GreenWords Avoid “Information-Free” Jargon (It’s not always fewer words) Instead of saying Say At this point in time Now At the end of the day Finally Let's take a deeper dive Let’s analyze this in more detail Monetize Make money from Stay on-message Keep repeating the same thing Yeah, that would be great. Thanks
  18. 18. GreenWords Use 8th Grade English • Broadens the audience for most materials • Better understood by non-native English speakers AND most business executives • People with higher than 8th Grade education rarely object to 8th Grade level materials • Most business text uses the same 1300 words we learn by the 8th Grade • Most words above 8th Grade level have 8th Grade level synonyms • You can still use business and technical terms that have no 8th Grade synonyms
  19. 19. GreenWords Simplify Your Sentences • Separate compound sentences at “marker points” – While – And – Despite – Still • Every comma represents a chance to simplify • If necessary, add words to maintain clarity
  20. 20. GreenWords Example Instead of saying Say “The software-based flight “The software-based flight control system is thoroughly control system undergoes tested in the secure facility F67- thorough tests at the secure B while the aircraft itself is facility F67-B. tested repeatedly in the air by being exposed to weather The aircraft itself undergoes conditions specified in Doc 34B- repeated tests in the air. We 5 and using Cranbolton follow the Cranbolton methodology despite the fact methodology for these tests. that no amount of testing can prepare for all eventualities to These tests expose the aircraft arise in real-life conditions.” to weather conditions specified in Doc 34B-5. However, no amount of testing can prepare us for all real-life emergencies.” © GreenWords 2010
  21. 21. GreenWords Cut Out Unnecessary Phrases Instead of these.. Use these… • At all times • Always • At the present time • Now • At that point in time • Then • Due to the fact that • Because • For the purpose of • For • In connection with • With • In most instances • Usually
  22. 22. GreenWords Limit Paragraphs to One Topic Instead of saying Say “Notice of a bid advertisement 1.“Thirty days before the sale, shall be published in at least one we will publish a notice local newspaper and in one trade advertising bids. The notice will publication at least 30 days in be in at least one local advance of sale. If applicable, newspaper and in one trade the notice must identify the publication. It will identify any reservation within which the reservation where the tracts to tracts to be leased are found. be leased are located. Specific descriptions of the tracts shall be available at the office of 1.We will share information the superintendent. The about this process in two other complete text of the ways. We will mail the advertisement shall be mailed to advertisement to each person on each person listed on the the appropriate agency mailing appropriate agency mailing list.” list. We will also provide specific descriptions of the tracts at the superintendent’s office.” Source: “Cover Only One Topic in Each Paragraph” © GreenWords 2010
  23. 23. GreenWords The Challenge of Ambiguity Funny Examples • In a Portland, ME parking garage: Tenants not paid by the 15th of the month will be terminated. • In a New Hampshire jewelry store: Ears pierced while you wait. • In a New York restaurant: Customers who consider our waitresses uncivil ought to see the manager. • On the wall of a Baltimore estate: Trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. --Sisters of Mercy • On a long-established New Mexico dry cleaners: 38 years on the same spot. Source: Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations (Jeff Gray)
  24. 24. GreenWords Ambiguity Not So Funny Example 1999: In US hospitals alone, medical errors were responsible for 44,000 to 98,000 deaths annually, with an estimated annual cost ranging from $17 billion to $29 billion. The principal causes: system errors, especially unclear instructions and prescriptions Source: “To Err Is Human: Building A Safer Health System” Institute of Medicine (IOM) in November 1999. © GreenWords 2010
  25. 25. GreenWords Why Commas Matter “Eats Shoots and Leaves” Do you think of this? “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” Or this?
  26. 26. GreenWords Web References and Resources • Plain (The first stop) • Amazingly Simple Stuff • Effective Communication: Why Plain Language Is the Way To Go • Benefits of Plain Language • The Principles of Readability • Plain Language at Work Newsletter • Center for Plain Language • Answering the Critics of Plain Language • What Plain Language REALLY Is
  27. 27. GreenWords Final Thoughts • Be patient. Plain Language takes a few minutes to learn, a lifetime to master • Know when to break the rules. Plain Language is a standard, not a creed. • Always write with the audience in mind. And YOU are NOT the audience. • Plain Language can help you think, not just write, more clearly.
  28. 28. GreenWords For More Information Contact: Rob Benjamin Rob.Benjamin@GreenWords,net Tel: 609 587-9069 Cell: 609 977-6214 © GreenWords 2010