Gwen Davies

A How To: Make something complicated into something simple

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Here you go – three complications with three simple strategies to try.

Terms – every profession has them
All professions have their ways of talking that are like a secret handshake. If you can take a step back and look at what you write as if you were the reader, you can usually open it up to the public.

Issue: You need to use the proper term.
“You must have the mandatory competencies.”

Strategy: Use the term in a sentence that explains what you mean.
“There are courses you must take and pass – our mandatory competencies.”

Complicated processes – life is full of complicated processes
First, break a complicated process down into a list of all the steps.
Next, put the steps in order.

Issue: The process you need to tell your readers to follow is really complicated.
“An Internationally Educated Widget Specialist with a prospective employer in Nova Scotia may forward an Initial Registration application to the College requesting a Temporary Licence if the following additional documents can be provided with the completed Initial Registration application:

Strategy: Take it one step at a time. Put the steps in order. Talk to the person directly.
Are you a Widget Specialist who trained outside of Canada?
Is there an employer in Nova Scotia who would like to hire you?
You can ask the College for a temporary licence when you send in your initial registration.
Include these documents:

Repeating the same word over and over – and you want your writing to be interesting
Focus on being clear. People don’t read, they skim. You are a conduit for information. Readers stop to wonder if you meant the same thing each time you use a synonym.

Issue: You want to hold your readers’ interest, such as on a website about older people
Readers stop often stop reading when they run into what you think of as good synonyms, like “senior citizens” and then “the elderly” and then “the aged.”
Strategy: Choose one term and use it every time. Choose the one that makes most sense to your readers.

Note: I’ve taken these from two sources: “Perfectly Plain: A quick-reference handbook for people who create websites, write emails, and design forms” published by the Fair Registration Practices Act Review Office, and from the US Government Plain Language Guidelines.

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4 Comments so far:

  1. Hi,
    I’d like to email you. Can’t seem to find the address on this site?
    Cheers
    Kate
    Plain Language Academy
    Key Advice

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