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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16 September 2011

A rose by any other name...

Neil James of the Plain English Foundation, in a presentation on the first morning of the IPEd Conference, challenged us to apply a simple test of public recognition. Ask your taxi driver, he said, what profession solves the problem, and what is the name of the professional practitioner.

Illness or injury? Medicine and doctor.

A complex tax return? Accountancy and accountant.

Breach of contract? Law and lawyer.

What about producing a document?

Thanks to historical contexts, the fragmented theoretical base, and rapidly evolving fields, we're unlikely to get the same response (or in some cases any response) from all the people we ask.

Neil suggests that we needed to promote editing and its communications siblings as part of a broader communications discipline, encompassing editing, technical communication, plain language, information design, and usability.

My question to you is what should we call this discipline? Neil suggests 'communicator'. My offering that day was 'scribe' - a word with a venerable tradition. Once, designers used to call themselves commercial artists. Does that make us commercial writers?

Thinking about it further, I'm leaning towards 'writer'. That's what I put on customs documents and tax forms. When people ask: 'What do you do?' I respond: 'I write'. 'What do you write?' With Hamlet, I reply: 'Words. Words. Words.'

Any preferences? Other suggestions?

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