This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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29 July 2010

Carrots and the art of writing clearly

For the first week of this term, my 12-year-old son had to keep a food diary. He recorded everything he ate and his mood at various times during the day. A food diary is an intriguing tool that makes you think carefully about what you eat. For a week, gone were chippies and biscuits and illicit sweets on the way home from school. In were nutritious snacks, healthy lunches, and lots of vegetables for dinner — which he even insisted on cooking one night! (To be fair, my boy does enjoy his vegetables, with or without the influence of a food diary!) We noticed a big increase in the number of carrots we consumed that week.

The food diary activity is finished now, but its memory lingers on. Carrot sticks regularly feature in the lunch box — long may they continue to be the snack of choice. As for the moods — pretty good overall.

So I hope the food diary will have a lasting impact. Perhaps not enough to banish junk food forever, but enough to make a noticeable difference for a few days that might stretch to weeks. Maybe carrots and cooking will become a habit.

For plain English writing (well, this blog is called ‘Write clearly’, after all), the equivalent of the food diary is a writing standard. It makes you think carefully about what you write. A writing standard consists of a few clear statements against which you can measure features of your own or others’ writing. Is your purpose clear at the beginning? Does the order of your information work for the reader of your document? Are your sentences short and straightforward?

By following a few essential principles of plain English — nutrition for writing — you can improve your writing so it works well for the reader.

Once you’ve used a writing standard several times, you’ll find the principles start to become second nature. Plain English will become a healthy habit your readers will thank you for. Carrots, anyone?

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