Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video What you should know, part of Writing in Plain English.
- Achieving plain English or writing in plain language, and I do use those words interchangeably throughout the course, is an ongoing, sometimes objective goal. It's more than a word here or there, or an overused wordy phrase, or the overall general writing style, it's a combination of all of these and more. We'll examine a variety of anti-plain English terms, such as jargon, gobbledygook, and weasel words in addition to analyzing the need to keep the reader in mind.
A company jargon term, such as LIFO for example, is perfectly clear to the accounting department, but many not be plain English to the client. Even though various groups of unclear wording are identified throughout this course the categories are not mutually exclusive. That corporate jargon may also be identified as gobbledygook. Also when we examine readability indices one of the criteria is the number or percent of difficult words. Generally the more syllables the higher the difficulty level.
But exceptions certainly exist. The one syllabled word vie might not be as common as the five syllabled word hippopotamus. On the other hand wordy terms are more or less universal across all readers, channels, and messages. Such as always being able to shorten due the fact that to because. One more important point to think about before you begin the lessons maybe even to change your view about is what impressive writing really is.
Impressive writing is that clear, concise, easy-to-read communication. Trying to string together 50 word sentences with a high percentage of big words should never be your goal. In fact, trying to impress someone with well, impressive sounding language can actually have the opposite effect. Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton University experimented with easy-to-understand versus more complex versions of writing, in which easy-to-understand words were replaced with more impressive sounding words.
Such as changing angry to splenetic. His study concluded that the more grandiose and complex the language used the less intelligent the writer was rated. In other words, using big words made the writer look less educated. The number two mistake in Dawn Josephson's article, The Top 3 Business Writing Mistakes You’re Probably Making Right Now, is writing to impress rather than to express. She stresses that writing with the hope of impressing people accomplishes losing the reader, and that true genius is when you can explain your idea in such a way that a five year old child can understand it.
What is impressive is being able to read that letter, that email, that report one time, understand it, and take the necessary action. So throughout this course we'll look at a variety of areas that result in unplain English and multiple writing techniques to correct those all for one goal, to write in impressive plain English. Also, we'll be looking at websites that generate technobabble, jargon, and gobbledygook for example.
Those should be used to look at what not to do rather than use them to generate meaningless, not impressive language. Finally, as with trying to make any change or break any bad habit awareness of the need to change is one of the first steps, then unlearning the old, and practicing the new are necessary until finally the change or new habit feels natural. You'll go through those stages in your quest to become a plain English writer.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Understanding plain English
- Catching mistakes by reading aloud
- Simplifying sentences
- Using strong verbs and meaningful words
- Avoiding corporate jargon
- Finding the right voice and tone
- Editing flow and content
- Writing in a conversational style