Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Dispelling the myths of plain language

I admit I love grammar. In fact, it's the reason I do what I do. I'm a writer, copyeditor and aspiring author. But that doesn't mean I bask in the glow of my own glory. I'm fallible. I'm always seeking constructive criticism from my peers. And above all, I know I don't serve my own needs, I serve those of the reader. That's why plain language is so important. Let's embrace grammar not for its prescriptive elements but for the value it brings to language. What does plain language mean? I found an excellent resource on the Public Works and Government Services Canada linguistic databank website that gives a great explanation.

Here's what plain language isn't:

Myth 1: Plain language equals dull writing. Not true.
The plain in plain language doesn’t mean boring. It means clear and direct, as in the plain truth. The fact is, plain language is active, clear and more understandable than messages fraught with verbose and flowery style.

Myth 2: Plain language dilutes content. Many people fear that simple words and short sentences will dumb down a complex message. Not so. Plain language is the best and sometimes the only way to communicate complex ideas to a general audience.

Myth 3: Writers who use plain language risk insulting educated, literate readers. There's no need to dwell on this misconception. No one, regardless of their reading level, likes to wade through jargon and superfluous copy to extract meaning from a document.

What plain language is:

Plain language has everything to do with the reader. Documents written in plain language are specifically composed, drafted and edited  to meet the reader’s needs. Writers who are insecure and want to inflate themselves by producing official-sounding words and phrases are actually hiding behind the ambiguity of their craft. The end result is a message that doesn't resonate with the audience. Writers musk ask themselves, "Who are my readers," "What is their reading ability," "What do they need or want to know," "What do I want them to do after they read my message," and "What are the benefits to my reader?"  Answering those questions, then choosing appropriate structure, vocabulary and style, is the only way to write a message that suits its audience.

Plain language examples:

Don't write



for the purpose of



of a scientific nature



big, large

not often


in order to




has the ability to


For more information you can visit the putting it plainly site.

The humour in grammar - word crimes!

In our house, we have an understanding. Grammar forms the building blocks for cohesive conversation. Yes there was a time when my 16-year-old would roll his eyes, utter a sigh and give into whatever weighty lecture I might have the occasion to deliver after reviewing his English composition. And my husband would begrudgingly hand over his latest sermon for my review. They wanted my opinion but not the criticism that usually accompanied it. 
Now we approach grammar lessons with a different lens. We inject humour into our creatively crafted prose. We poke fun at common grammatical pitfalls and try to devise new and thoughtful ways to approach articulate expression. Why? Because it's not about the words, it's about how wonderfully they connect to produce beautifully written stories, inspiring historical accounts and rhetorical messages. Richly woven tales of adventure, characters so aptly personified or landscapes depicted with dazzling narratives serve to fuel our devotion. And when we want to have a little more fun, well there's always Weird Al.