To mark the first International Plain Language Day The Media Online and In other words’ Caryn Gootkin have put together this plain language special feature for you.
After months of ranting on about the bad writing I was bombarded with, this is a fitting day to lay my plain language cards on the table. I’ve finally written my version of a plain language toolkit, which I hope you will find useful. It grew exponentially as I wrote it so I’ve had to split it into two parts, the second of which we’ll publish next week.
And,because it may be a bit dry for some of you, I’ve included some humour. Also, I asked two (real) plain language experts to share with you some of their wisdom on the topic. From Canada, Cheryl Stephens, co-founder of International Plain Language day, gives us a glimpse into the future of plain language. Frances Gordon of Simplified (in Johannesburg), who runs the SA plain language website, explains the plain language provisions in South African law.
Then, because my own working style is slightly chaotic (and somewhat opposed to my preachings about simple language), I have asked productivity specialist Tracy Foulkes, of Get Organised, to share her simple tips for getting, and staying, organised. I plan on implementing them, just as soon as I finish this column.
The missing challenge
In a previous column on how bad writing harms a brand’s image, I challenged readers to rewrite some email correspondence from Standard Bank’s customer ralations (sic) department in plain language. I invited you to respond with your entries in the comments section at the bottom of the page. I also promised the writer of the best rewrite a two day plain language course with John Linnegar of Edit and Train.
So far so good. But, when the first entry came in, I realised all I had was the poster’s name and no way of contacting him. The comments section of a column is hardly the best way to receive competition entries. So, we sent out a separate newsletter inviting readers to submit their entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. From here, things fell apart.
Unfortunately, an error occurred; a mistake was made. Consequently, the incorrect text appeared as the linguistic challenge and some readers produced splendidly intelligible versions of said wrong text. Forthwith, on detection of the blunder, we hurriedly made amends, replacing the offending passages lickety-split.
(If you didn’t notice my tongue firmly placed in my cheek in the previous paragraph then your name isn’t Llewellyn Kriel. Seriously, if you really didn’t spot that I was intentionally using the ‘unplainest’ language I could muster, you really need to read the other posts.)
In other words, we made a mistake and, to rectify, we are extending the challenge by a few days. (Tom Purcell, please email us your contact details).
Our challenge to you
We are holding a plain language challenge in the aftermath of International Plain Language Day. In her previous column on bad writing and the Standard Bank brand, Gootkin gave examples of replies by a bank employee to complaints about the bank on hellopeter.com.
Rewrite these three short communications in plain language and stand a chance to win a two-day Plain Language course run by John Linnegar of McGillivrayLinnegarAssociates. To enter, please email your plain language versions to email@example.com by no later than 5pm on Monday October 16.
John will judge the entries and we’ll publish the winning entry, together with John’s explanation of why he chose that version, on October 21 2011.
About John Linnegar
John has been active in the publishing industry for almost 30 years, as editor, proofreader, technical writer and industrial editor. Since October 2000 he has been presenting courses on various aspects of copy editing and proofreading. John has also written a practical guide to South African English called Engleish Our Engleish: Common errors in South African English and how to resolve them.
See how many grammatical and plain language transgressions you can spot in the three letters below. Let’s see if we can find the simplest and most-straightforward way of conveying these messages.
“With reference to my closing call to you, there was consensus that the matter was dealt and no hesitance was evident at the time from you.
We assure you that we regard our service delivery of at most importance and will strive to deliver even better service to our customers going forward.
As previously advised, should you experience any dissatisfied service delivery, you are most welcome to contact me directly and urgent assistance shall be provided to you.”
Please be advised that further details have been requested from you in order for us to address your concerns.
We await you response.
With reference to our telephonic discussion earlier, we do sincerely apologise for the service break down experienced. The matter was addressed with the relevant parties in order to prevent any similar re-occurrences of this nature.
I trust you find the above in order.
Complaint Resolution Centre