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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24 September 2010

To serif or not to serif? That is not the question!

Do you need to decide on a font to use for a publication or for your organisation? Don’t limit your discussions to whether you should choose serif or sans serif. (A serif is a fine line finishing the main strokes of a letter, such as at the top and bottom of a Y.)

Several factors affect legibility and readability, and a much broader range of fonts are now available to organisations than ever in the past. Factors include point size, x-height, leading, character spacing, alignment, and typestyles that can affect legibility and readability of type.

Because of this variety of factors, it is very difficult to design a research study that gives a definitive conclusion on such a fundamental issue as ‘serif’ or ‘sans serif’. Indeed, in a literature review of readability research I did some years ago, I found strong research-based opinions for both extremes, plus ‘it doesn’t matter’ in the middle.

This is a good literature review of over 50 empirical studies.

In this study, the researcher made interesting discoveries about the impact of point size, and gives reasons for preferring sans-serif faces for online publication.

Wheildon’s ‘Type and Layout’, published in 1995, and based on research done in Australia, has some interesting findings. I wrote an article on it at the time, a rewritten version of which is still on the web.

Wheildon is a strong supporter of serif fonts in print, but his research has been criticised for using a less legible font as his basis. However, his conclusions on line length and line spacing are strongly supported by researchers across the entire spectrum of opinion.

19 September 2010

Saying what you mean

'Well done is better than well said. But, when it comes to plain language in business, well said is easier said than done. For organisations to mean what they say, they must first learn to say what they mean.'

So says South African
Christine Leonardi, freelance writer and communications practitioner, in a brilliant article about the need for plain language in corporate communications.

Read the article

07 September 2010

'Brainstrain' winners took it on the chin

Since the WriteMark Plain English Awards began in 2006 offering 'Brainstrain' awards for documents and websites that frustrate and confuse, only two organisations have fronted up to collect their dubious awards at the ceremony --- until now.

In Friday's ceremony, held at Parliament, the Commerce Commission collected an award for the worst 'Brainstrain' website and The Office for Senior Citizens collected one for worst 'Brainstrain' document. Both organisations vowed to change their ways --- a great result!

Read about the winners and finalists for all the positive awards too.

Congratulations to the WriteMark Plain English Award winners!

Read about the winners and finalists on the Awards website.

And special congratulations to the Office of the Auditor General for winning the supreme award for Plain English Champion: Best Organisation!

02 September 2010

Demand plain English in Plain English Week

'What do you mean? '

These are the words we want everyone to use this week.

Why? Because this is Plain English Week --- a time when we celebrate the best, and refuse to accept the worst. You have a right to understand. So if someone gives you something that is poorly written, say: 'What do you mean?'

Rachel McAlpine, chair of the lobby group Plain English Power, has written about Plain English Week here:

So has Robyn Hunt, a tireless advocate for making technology accessible:
This one is Robyn, too:

The highlight of the week will be the WriteMark Plain English Awards, on in the Banquet Hall of Parliament tomorrow night. Watch the Awards website or your newspapers to find out the best --- and the worst --- plain English organisations, documents, and websites in New Zealand. Read more here:

So why not join Plain English Power?

And remember to celebrate Plain English Week by saying: 'What do you mean?'