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Plain Language Writing for Maximum Impact

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Review of what plain language is and why plain language matters. Strategies for writing in plain language.

Workshop slides from 2015 Writers Workshop Conference, University of Guelph.

Published in: Education
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Plain Language Writing for Maximum Impact

  1. 1. Plain&Language&Wri-ng&for&Maximum&Impact& Anne&Bergen&&&Kim&Garwood& ! ! Image source: http://www.snappywords.com/?lookup=write
  2. 2. A"ribu'on* This*work*is*licensed*under*a* Crea've*Commons*A"ribu'on8ShareAlike*4.0*Interna'onal*License.* You&are&free:& •  to*Share*—*copy*and*redistribute*the*material*in*any*medium*or*format* •  to*Remix*—*Remix,*transform,*and*build*upon*the*material* for*any*purpose,*even*commercially.* Under&the&following&condi-ons:& •  A"ribu'on*—*A"ribu'on*—*You*must*give*appropriate*credit,*provide*a*link*to*the*license,* and*indicate*if*changes*were*made.*You*may*do*so*in*any*reasonable*manner,*but*not*in*any* way*that*suggests*the*licensor*endorses*you*or*your*use.* •  Share*Alike*—*If*you*remix,*transform,*or*build*upon*the*material,*you*must*distribute*your* contribu'ons*under*the*same*license*as*the*original.* ACribute&this&work&as:&& *Bergen,*A.,*and*Garwood,*K.*(2015).*Plain*language*wri'ng*for*maximum*impact.! Writers*Workshop*Conference,*University*of*Guelph,*Guelph,*ON.* ** 2*
  3. 3. About*Us* •  Anne&Bergen&& Knowledge*Mobiliza'on*Consultant* & •  Kim&Garwood* Wri'ng*Services*Manager* *
  4. 4. Agenda* Part*1:*What*is*plain*language,*and*why*does*it* * ****ma"er?* * Part*2:*Using*plain*language*strategies*for* * * ********maximum*impact*
  5. 5. & & What&is&“plain&language”& and&why&does&it&maCer?& Simplicity*is*the*ul'mate*sophis'ca'on.* Leonardo!da!Vinci!
  6. 6. “Never*use*a*long*word* where*a*short*one*will* do.”** –*George*Orwell* What&is&plain&language?& *“A*communica'on*is*in*plain*language*if*it* meets&the&needs&of&its&audience—by*using* language,*structure,*and*design*so*clearly*and* effec'vely*that*the*audience*has*the*best* possible*chance*of*readily*finding*what*they* need,*understanding*it,*and*using*it.”** * Anne"a*Cheek* *
  7. 7. What&it’s&not$ • baby*talk* • over8simplifying*ideas* • overly*descrip've* *
  8. 8. Plain&language&helps&readers& * * •  find*what*they*need* •  easily*understand*the*message* •  take*ac'on* * * * * * * Source: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/index.cfmCenter for Plain Language. (2011). What is plain language? Retrieved from http:// centerforplainlanguage.org/about-plain-language/
  9. 9. Plain*language*examples* •  Research*–*journal*ar'cle*synopses* •  Evalua'on*–*does*this*program*work?*for*whom?* under*what*condi'ons?* •  Instruc'ons*(e.g.,*assembling*products)* •  Health*informa'on*(pa'ent*educa'on)* •  Government*communica'ons* •  Journalism*&*media*communica'on* •  Marke'ng*&*adver'sing* •  What*else?*
  10. 10. Who? Why? What? So what? Who is this from? Who is this for? What is the purpose of this information? What do I need to do? What’s at stake? Why should I care? Readers&want&to&know:&
  11. 11. Create&your&own&example&& * (Brochure*or*pamphlet)*“What*you*need*to*know*about…”* * (Instruc'ons)*“How*to…”* * (Warning)*“Danger!*…”* * (Corporate*email)*“Here’s*what’s*changing*and*why...”* * (Sales*pitch)*“Why*you*should*buy*this*product/service…”*
  12. 12. & & Plain&language& strategies& * * The*ability*to*simplify*means*to*eliminate*the* unnecessary*so*that*the*necessary*may*speak.* ** Hans!Hofmann** *
  13. 13. Planning&
  14. 14. How*will*readers*get*the*informa'on?* • Email* • Phone* • Text*message* • Le"er* • S'cky*note* * * * • A"achment* • Magazine* • Website* • Infographic* • Other?* * *
  15. 15. How*will*readers*get*the*informa'on?* Language* Layout* Loca'on*
  16. 16. Paragraph&structure&
  17. 17. Use*topic*sentences* Hi*Karen,* * Can*you*send*me*an*updated*copy*of*the*Beltzer* report?*I*need*a*printed*version.*John*would*like*an* update*on*the*report—please*give*him*a*call.*And*be* sure*to*give*Cathy*the*office*key.*You*can*do*all*this* before*you*leave*on*Friday,*I*hope?* * Thanks,* Marla* *
  18. 18. Use*topic*sentences* Hi*Karen,* * Before&you&leave&on&Friday,&there&are&three&things&I& need&you&to&do.&Can*you*send*me*an*updated*copy*of* the*Beltzer*report?*I*need*a*printed*version.*John* would*like*an*update*on*the*report—please*give*him*a* call.*And*be*sure*to*give*Cathy*the*office*key.** * Thanks,* Marla*
  19. 19. Sentence&structure&
  20. 20. Keep*to*one*idea*per*sentence.* Instead&of&this… && If*you*take*less*than*your*en'tled* share*of*produc'on*for*any* month,*but*you*pay*royal'es*on* the*full*volume*of*your*en'tled* share*in*accordance*with*the* provisions*of*this*sec'on,*you*will* owe*not*addi'onal*royalty*for* that*lease*for*prior*periods*when* you*later*take*more*than*your* en'tled*share*to*balance*your* account.*This*also*applies*when* the*other*par'cipants*pay*you* money*to*balance*your*account.* Try&this& Suppose*that*one*month*you*pay* royal'es*on*your*full*share*of* produc'on*but*take*less*than* your*en'tled*share.*In*this*case,* you*may*balance*your*account*in* one*of*the*following*ways* without*having*to*pay*more* royalty.*You*may*either:* a)  Take*more*than**your*en'tled* share*in*the*future;*or** b)  Accept*payment*from*other* par'cipants.* (Federal Plain Language Guidelines, 2010, p.49)
  21. 21. Students, with prior permission from the instructor and the approval of the department, can defer an exam to a convenient time. Keep*subjects*and*objects*close*to*verbs.* * * *
  22. 22. * Keep*subjects*and*objects*close*to*verbs.* * * * Students, with prior permission from the instructor and the approval of the department, can defer an exam to a convenient time. You may defer an exam if you have permission from the instructor and department.
  23. 23. *Put*excep'ons*or*clarifica'ons*AFTER* the*main*point.* * *The*automobile*manufacturer*may,*if* the*repair*is*needed*due*to*a*faulty*part* that*has*been*imported*from*a*supplier,* forward*your*claim*to*a*third*party*for* further*inves'ga'on.* www.plainlanguage.gov
  24. 24. *Put*excep'ons*or*clarifica'ons*AFTER* the*main*point.* * *The*automobile*manufacturer*may* forward*your*claim*to*a*third*party*for* further*inves'ga'on*if&the&repair& needed&is&due&to&a&faulty&part&that& has&been&imported&from&a& supplier.& www.plainlanguage.gov
  25. 25. Move*from*known*to*new* *As*you*know,*the*Pancake*Project*is*now* in*its*final*phase.*During*this*phase,*all*of* the*pancake*producers*must*submit*their* recipes*for*the*Pancake*Panel*to*consider.* To*submit*your*recipe,*please*format*it*in* Comic*Sans*font*and*send*it*by*email*to* pancake@gmail.com.** * * * Cutts, Martin (1995). The plain English guide.
  26. 26. Move*from*known*to*new* *As&you&know,&the*Pancake*Project*is* now*in*its*final*phase.*During*this& phase,*all*of*the*pancake*producers* must*submit*their*recipes*for*the* Pancake*Panel*to*consider.*To&submit& your&recipe,&please*format*it*in*Comic* Sans*font*and*send*it*by*email*to* pancake@gmail.com.** * * Cutts, Martin (1995). The plain English guide.
  27. 27. Example&–&Part&2& Edit&your&paragraph&and&sentence&structure:& & ❑  wri"en*for*a*typical*reader*in*your*target* audience* ❑  organized*to*serve*the*reader’s*needs* ❑  uses*ques'on8and8answer*format* ❑  uses*short*sec'ons*and*sentences* ❑  uses*headings*with*no*more*than*two*or* three*subordinate*levels* * *
  28. 28. * * * * * * Word&choice&
  29. 29. Eliminate*unnecessary*words** * * – A*number*of* – A*sufficient*amount* – At*this*point*in*'me* – In*order*to* – Cease*and*desist* * * * * * Federal Plain Language Guidelines (2010). MANY ENOUGH NOW TO STOP
  30. 30. Use*familiar*words* •  Commence* •  Numerous* •  Prior*to* •  Shall ** •  U'lize* •  Problema'ze&& * •  Begin,*Start* •  Several,*Many* •  Before* •  Must* •  Use* •  Reconsider,*challenge* * * * Instead$of…$ Try…$ www.plainlanguage.gov
  31. 31. Be*consistent* ** •  Use&as&few&acronyms&as&possible.** •  Make*sure*you*define*them*first.* * •  Use&the&same&term&for&a&concept&throughout& •  e.g.,*if*you*say*“car”*don’t*also*use*“vehicle”,* “auto”,*or*“conveyance”*
  32. 32. * * * * * * Verbs&
  33. 33. * * * He made an application for the job. www.plainlanguage.gov Use*“ac'on”*verbs***
  34. 34. * * * He made an application for the job. He applied for the job. www.plainlanguage.gov Use*“ac'on”*verbs***
  35. 35. Use*“ac'on”*verbs* * * * There was a cessation of hostilities. www.plainlanguage.gov
  36. 36. Use*“ac'on”*verbs* * * * There was a cessation of hostilities. Hostilities ceased. www.plainlanguage.gov
  37. 37. Prefer*ac've*voice* * “The*contract*will*be*approved*by*the*mayor* next*week.”* * *The*mayor*will*approve*the*contract*next* week.* * “Your*luggage*was*lost.”* * We*lost*your*luggage.* **
  38. 38. Be*direct:*“I”*and*“You”* * * * * * ** The office must be notified of an employee absence. www.plainlanguage.gov
  39. 39. Be*direct:*“I”*and*“You”* * * * * * ** The office must be notified of an employee absence. You must notify us if you will be absent. www.plainlanguage.gov
  40. 40. * * * * * * Nouns&&&pronouns&
  41. 41. Avoid*long*strings*of*nouns* (Federal Plain Language Guidelines, 2010, p.27) underground mine worker safety protection procedures development
  42. 42. Avoid*long*strings*of*nouns* We engaged in underground mine worker safety protection procedures development. We developed procedures to protect the safety of workers in underground mines. (Federal Plain Language Guidelines, 2010, p.27)
  43. 43. Example&–&Part&3& Edit&your&word&choices:& & ❑  uses*“you”*and*other*pronouns* ❑  uses*ac've*voice* ❑  wri"en*to*one*person,*not*a*group* ❑  places*words*carefully*(excep'ons*are*last,* subjects*and*verbs*are*together)* ❑  avoids*confusing*words** * * &
  44. 44. & & & & & & FormaZng&&&visuals&
  45. 45. Formanng*strategies* •  White*space* – Short*paragraphs* – Wide*margins* – “Padding”*around*images* •  Headings** •  Bullets* •  Tables* •  Images*(if*they*complement*text)*
  46. 46. b •  ESSENTIAL&RESEARCH&SYNOPSIS&DETAILS& & CITATION* RESEARCH*QUESTIONS* PURPOSE* HYPOTHESES* PARTICIPANTS* PROCEDURE** MAIN*OUTCOME*MEASURES* KEY*RESULTS* LIMITATIONS* CONCLUSIONS* KEYWORDS*** URL
  47. 47. Example&–&Part&4& Think&about&formaZng:& & ❑  uses*lists*and*tables*(if*appropriate)* ❑  uses*images*when*possible* ❑  adequate*white*space* ❑  key*points*are*emphasized*visually* ❑  consider*accessibility** ❑  avoid*overuse*of*italics*and*bold& * * *
  48. 48. & & & & & & Feedback&
  49. 49. How*to*assess*your*document* •  Word8based*tools* (Word*readability* feature)* – Readability* •  CAUTION:*Readability* scores*alone*are*not* enough—it’s*best*to* combine*with*another* method.* – Accessibility* * * * Source: Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac
  50. 50. Feedback*con'nued…* •  From*readers* – Informal*feedback* – Read*aloud*protocols* – Plus*&*minus*tes'ng* – Comments*(online)* •  How*to*give*good*feedback* •  What*to*do*with*feedback* *
  51. 51. Example&–&Part&4& Feedback& & ❑  What*would*you*like*feedback*on?* ❑  What*would*you*not*like*feedback*on?* ❑  How*will*you*provide*feedback*to*others?* * * * & &
  52. 52. Write*down*one*ques'on*you*s'll* have.*

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