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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26 May 2011

Not only indexes hide at the back of the book

My colleague Meredith recently ran a well-received workshop on indexing. This meant I had the idea of back-of-book indexes and glossaries in mind when I read the new novel Player One by Douglas Coupland.

You wouldn't usually expect a novel to have an index. I have seen the occasional novel (usually something historical or fantastical) with a glossary. A Clockwork Orange would certainly benefit from one, with its inventive and Russian-based nadsat teenage slang.

Player One uses thirty (thirty!) pages to present a 'future legend' -- partly reference material for reading the novel, but mainly a list of interesting ideas connected to the novel. The intention certainly seems to be that the reader works their way serially through this legend when they reach the end of the book

So, an index? no. In the back of the book? yes. Interesting? definitely.

18 May 2011

Information design - starting with raisin biscuits

I still have the first recipe I ever wrote down. It set the course of my career.

It was on the school holiday radio programme when I was nine. I put it in the blank-paged book for collecting recipes that Mum gave me. It’s for raisin biscuits, and I still make it all the time.

I quickly filled that cookbook, starting with the baking section. When that was full, I commandeered the ‘sauces and gravies’ section for more cakes and biscuits.

Realising space was tight, I began to experiment with different ways of laying out the recipes so they took up less room but all the important details were captured.

Now I keep recipes on my laptop, so layout and space are not so important.

But I organise information for a living. Is space a problem? Is all the information there, in the order the reader needs it? Is it easy to follow? Can they find the information they need?

Whether you are making raisin biscuits, reading a webpage, or filling out a form, your basic needs as a reader are the same. Good information design is a must. The proof of the pudding is in the ease of understanding.

15 May 2011

The emperor has no clothes - and he's not a pretty sight!

Swap the management speak for plain English, says the Financial Times in a recent article, which begins:
When the inquest into London’s 7/7 suicide bombings started in October last year, the coroner became increasingly exasperated. On the final day of evidence, she snapped. “All you senior people [of the emergency services] are allowing yourselves to be taken over by management jargon,” Lady Justice Hallett said. “You people at the top need to say, ‘We have to communicate with people in plain English.’”
Writer Simon Caulkin looks at the reasons for convoluted business language, and concludes that it shows a poor customer focus, a lack of understanding, and a desire to confuse.

10 May 2011

US ClearMark Award winners announced

The winners of the US 2011 ClearMark Awards are on the Centre for Plain Language website.

Have a look at the before and after views of the Grand Prize Winner documents, submitted by the US Internal Revenue Service — who said tax was hard?

Lynda was one of the judges for this year’s Awards. She says it was a great opportunity to work with the international plain English community, and also to see how the US federal services are responding to their new Plain English legislation. The ClearMark Awards were inspired by the New Zealand’s WriteMark Awards. We were thrilled to hear that.

06 May 2011

Write's helping to shape winners!

Congratulations to Miles Crawford who won the Plain Language Commission’s recent competition that asked for a rewrite of a piece of gobbledygook.

We are especially proud of Miles as he’d participated in one of our writing workshops just before he submitted his winning entry.

The competition specifically asked readers to spot the error and the structural problem with the following bullet-pointed list.
If you use your account to make payments when you:
  • do not have enough money in your account and have not agreed a planned
    overdraft with us, or
  • the payment takes you over the limit of your planned overdraft;
you may have to pay bank fees as a result.
Our earlier blog ‘Just give it to me in Bullet Points’ may have been a good place for the original writer to start.

More information on Write’s workshops.