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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14 December 2010

Talking about 'Writing the Future'

We were thrilled to take part in the ‘Writing the Future’ colloquium on 2 and 3 December 2010. The colloquium drew together a wide range of people involved with teaching writing in the tertiary education sector, along with a few of us from the public and private sectors.

Mary McLaughlin attended the whole conference, and other Write people staffed a stall at the venue. Duncan Sarkies was also there, and presented a paper on the creative writing process. For all of us, it was a great opportunity to meet peers, gather ideas, and share perspectives.

The range of papers was terrific, with five keynote papers and 17 parallel sessions over the 2 days. Some particular highlights for us were:
• Gregory O’Brien on the relationships between poetry, art, art criticism, and non-fiction
• Natalie Savery on supporting dyslexic students’ academic writing in tertiary classes
• Elizabeth Gray on the intersections between creative and professional writing
• Peter Wood on being an academic writing on architecture for a public audience
• Polly Kobleva on marking as a writing process
• Anna Taylor on the art and craft of writing.

And as with all great conferences, we enjoyed the thoughtful organisation, good food, and the friendly, collegial atmosphere. Thanks to the Tertiary Writing Network for running such a successful event.

‘Not just words’ — Mary sums up her paper on document design and plain English
In the paper, I’ve talked largely about plain English and design in terms of function — in terms of how they work. I’ve looked at questions like:
• does this document work well for the reader?
• can the reader use the form?
• are language and design working together to help the reader get the main messages?

But at its best, plain English does more than work well. It appeals to the senses and the mind, to our human desires for simplicity, grace, elegance, space. And I believe that when we focus on design as part of the way we communicate, it brings home to us the aesthetic value of clear, precise writing. It reminds us that we don’t just want to convey a message; we want our readers to feel refreshed, calm, cared for. We want our readers to savour our words … and the forms in which we present them.

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