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PLAIN2013 Rethink, Reorganize, Reword, Redesign

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Presented at PLAIN 2013 in Vancouver, BC
Plain language is an efficient, effective, and human approach to practical communication. Consider your reader's knowledge, reading ability, interest, motivation, and the circumstances under which they will encounter your document. Rethink, reorganize, reword, and redesign your document to meet your reader's needs. Search for that perfect match between your audience, your purpose, and your message to create clear communication.

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PLAIN2013 Rethink, Reorganize, Reword, Redesign

  1. 1. Rethink, Reorganize, Reword, Redesign Diane Macgregor Communications Nova Scotia PLAIN2013 Vancouver
  2. 2. Plain language words and design working together to create clear communication Diane Macgregor, quoted in Michèle M. Asprey's Plain Language for Lawyers
  3. 3. For documents with a job to do Your readers can •  find what they need •  understand what they find •  act appropriately on that understanding within the time and effort that they think it is worth Janice Redish Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works
  4. 4. Why? Plain language is an efficient, effective, and human approach to practical communication. efficient • effective • human
  5. 5. efficient • effective • human
  6. 6. Made a legal process work the the public British Columbia’s Small Claims Court
  7. 7. Claims volume increased 40%—same staff
  8. 8. B.C. Small Claims Court • dollar limit doubled—$5000 to $10,000 • claims volume increased by 40% • staffing stayed the same • staff claimed new system worked 400% better Well-crafted materials made a process work for the public + employees + taxpayers
  9. 9. efficient • effective • human
  10. 10. Alberta: Game Protection Animal Registration Certificate •  track farmed elk and deer - disease •  compliance low •  database useless
  11. 11. Why didn’t the farmers comply? •  Didn’t see a need? •  Don’t like government? •  Too busy? •  Didn’t understand what the form was asking for?
  12. 12. What would this look like if it were designed for the farmer?
  13. 13. Compliance — over 95% This level of compliance has been maintained over the last 20 years. Only program change: the piece of paper sent to the farmer Read more at www.clarity-international.net/journals/38.pdf‎
  14. 14. efficient • effective • human
  15. 15. Do we like to be • warned? • scolded? • threatened?
  16. 16. Communicates displeasure Questions to ask: What do you want to have happen next? Can this approach make that happen? What will likely happen next?
  17. 17. Invites compliance Now what will happen next?
  18. 18. efficient • effective • human •  Does it avoid wasting time and resources? •  Does it generate many calls for clarification? •  Do you get back what you need, when you need it? •  Does it work well for everyone affected by it?— internal and external? •  Does what you want to have happen next actually happen? — Does it meet your communications goal? •  Is it easy for your audience to understand, comply, submit? •  Does it establish or keep good relationships?
  19. 19. How rethink • reorganize • reword • redesign
  20. 20. Question everything usability test who why what re-design re-think where when how re-word reorganize
  21. 21. Consider everything usability test life cycle utility needs voice purpose requirements background relationships message audience
  22. 22. Keep your goal in mind the most people in your audience get accurate information in the quickest time with good recall What do you want to have happen next?
  23. 23. Define a measurable goal You want form users to complete a task • accurately • on time • with appropriate attachments
  24. 24. Wh is communicating so difficult? Why y is tha t so diff icu lt?
  25. 25. Humans are complex •  varied backgrounds •  varied abilities •  varied life experiences •  varied needs •  varied perceptions about the world •  varied approaches to tasks •  varied …
  26. 26. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  27. 27. Do we have a match? reader characteristics prior knowledge reading skill interest — internal motivation — external + document characteristics content style — words; sentences structure — organization; cues design — font; white space î circumstances í
  28. 28. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  29. 29. Purpose: communicate changes in federal legislation to those who work in the justice system http://jlc.nscc.ns.ca/ycja/YCJA_Pocket.pdf
  30. 30. key audience: police
  31. 31. voice: clear legal language Flip book fits in an officer’s pocket. Coil bound. Side tabs for quick reference. Adopted by most other jurisdictions in Canada. Used by judges.
  32. 32. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  33. 33. Reading is hard work Reading and spelling require a phenomenal amount of brain power. Deciphering a sentence … is the most complex task your brain faces. The reason … is that the written word is a pretty recent invention. It was invented only 5000 years ago. John Stein Professor of Neuroscience Oxford University Medical School
  34. 34. What do you read for pleasure?
  35. 35. Best sellers like these?
  36. 36. •  Ian Rankin grade 5 •  J. K. Rowling grade 5–7 •  John Grisham grade 5–6 •  Jane Austen grade 7 www.amazon.com look inside feature
  37. 37. Bestselling non-fiction grade 9
  38. 38. Literacy statistics – IALS words documents numbers
  39. 39. 48% of Canadians have low or very low literacy Literacy Task Assessment Guide, 2005
  40. 40. statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-552-m/2007016/c-g/4054489-eng.htm
  41. 41. Who struggles to read? •  10% - professionals •  11% - university graduates •  25% - officials and managers
  42. 42. Hockey icon can’t read Jacques Demers “NHL coach devised complex ploys to hide illiteracy … even his children didn’t know” Globe and Mail November 3, 2005
  43. 43. Biography: En toutes lettres The Hour: Jacques Demers NHL Hero He was one of the most successful NHL coaches ever, but Jacques Demers dropped a bombshell when he admitted he can't read or write. www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBeaHwzd8jI
  44. 44. Who struggles to read? •  35% - clerical and office workers •  36% - employed in job or business •  56% - unemployed •  57% - immigrants •  80% - over age 65
  45. 45. People hide literacy problems “People don’t come into the office saying that they have literacy problems. People come in with health problems and it is often in trying to explain their health problems … that you be come aware that there are other issues.” Dr. Michael Caussen Health Literacy: Making the Connection
  46. 46. What is a dual-core processor? Dual- and multi-core processors have two or more full execution cores within a single processor enabling simultaneous management of activities. In a dual-core computer chip, there are two “performance engines” that can take more data and simultaneously process the data into rich multimedia content at a faster rate. grade 16 suitable for a techie audience businessweek.com/stories/2006-07-17/how-intel-cuts-through-the-jargon
  47. 47. Readability reader prior knowledge reading skill interest — internal motivation — external + document content style — words; sentences structure — organization; cues design — font; white space î circumstances í
  48. 48. How to reword that message for a wider audience Every personal computer has a brain chip, or microprocessor. Computers used to have just one brain. Now they have two or more. With more brains, your computer can do more things at the same time. For example, it can scan for viruses while you surf the web. It can download files while you read your e-mail. grade 4 adapted from www.businessweek.com/stories/2006-07-17/ how-intel-cuts-through-the-jargon
  49. 49. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  50. 50. Audience: workers in the commercial fishery
  51. 51. Do we have a match?
  52. 52. Is this a better match?
  53. 53. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  54. 54. Communicates displeasure Invites compliance Plain language consultant: Susan Barylo
  55. 55. Consider your reader’s • knowledge • reading ability • interest • motivation • circumstances
  56. 56. Do you read the fine print? Gamestation inserted a clause in their small print as an April Fools' Day joke: • 12% ticked an opt-out clause • 88% agreed to terms and conditions that included the transfer of rights to their immortal soul to Gamestation The Simpleton: Rob Waller's information design notes qwertyrob.blogspot.com/.../small-print-and-your-immortal-soul.html
  57. 57. What if big money is involved? On completion and for a period of fifteen years from completion, the Vendor's solicitors shall on request from the Purchaser's solicitors provide on each Friday that is a Business Day a selection of sandwiches, pastries and other snacks as specified by the Purchaser's solicitors. Apparently, a surprising number of “Friday sandwich clauses” make it to the final draft of legal contracts.
  58. 58. How rethink • reorganize • reword • redesign
  59. 59. Rethink •  Who are you writing to? •  Who is your most difficult client to reach? •  What is their knowledge of the subject? •  What is their reading ability?—education level, first language, what do they read for pleasure? •  What is their interest in your topic? •  What is their motivation?—what do they want to happen next? Why? •  Under what circumstances will they be reading your material—standing at a counter, in the rain, at their leisure, during a busy day at the office? •  Are they angry, upset, confused, bored, frazzled?
  60. 60. How a bill becomes law nslegislature.ca/pdfs/proceedings/NS_Legislative_Procedures.pdf

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