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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30 January 2012

Assessing the clarity of financial promotions

Promoting a financial product? Giving a prominent place to relevant information has ‘a key role in ensuring that a communication is clear, fair and not misleading’, states the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA). Their guidance discusses how to assess the prominence of information and gives examples of good and bad practice. We at Write support this concept — reflecting it in the jargon-buster booklet we are creating to help people who write for the financial sector.

And, interestingly, the last paragraph of the guidance says the FSA can take action against firms who disregard the rules on prominence.

The Financial Services Authority is an independent body that regulates the financial services industry in the UK.
Financial Services Authority. Financial Promotions – Guidance. Prominence. September 2011. [PDF 652KB]
You’ll find links to our medical and legal jargon-buster booklets on our home page.

25 January 2012

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves

Martin J Eppler, PhD, an American expert in clear communications, said:

‘In today’s attention economy, clear communication is the decisive factor to being heard and understood. Leaving this factor to chance is a risk that no organisation can afford.’

We agree.

He has written about how to achieve clear communication in CW Bulletin, the magazine of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Read his article Examples and tools for clear communication.

24 January 2012

Crash blossoms continue to bloom

In Language Log, I came across the term 'crash blossoms' - a new and delightful term for those garden path sentences that lead the reader down one track then suddenly force a reappraisal and a rereading.  We find them a lot in headlines: "Experts: skeptical US drone shot down;" "Woman Better after Being Thrown from High-rise," "Milk Drinkers Turn to Powder."

(In the New York Times column 'On Language', one of the Language Log authors explains where the term came from, and gives some hilarious examples.)

Crash blossoms even have their own blog: Crash Blossoms >> Headlines gone wrong.

And crash blossoms are alive and well in New Zealand, today's Stuff giving us "Education costs a stretch"  (and how parents wish that a stretch was all it cost), while the New Zealand Herald tells us that "Bikes bring more money than wood from Rotorua forest" (I thought they used logging trucks).

18 January 2012

Slang on trading floors is disappearing

Shifts in our language to improve clarity can happen naturally over time. And the trading floors in London are no exception.

Slang like ‘cable’, ‘Bill and Ben’, and ‘the Stokkie’ are less likely to be heard. And the reasons — foreign exchange traders are now more likely to be university educated. They make more electronic deals, and now deal in the Euro, and in an international environment.

These changes have made a difference, as explained in the article ‘Modern trading killing off “barrow boy” market slang’.

12 January 2012

No comma splices, please; we're allergic

Over in the Economist column 'Johnson' (named after the dictionary-maker) they've been debating the dreaded comma splice, leading to a post that begins:
SEVERAL months ago I was surprised to see Arnold Zwicky, a linguist, use a comma splice. A few commenters took me to task for being over-picky. The question came up again in the comments several days ago, when k.a.gardner, a frequent commenter, asked for a post on the comma splice. One of my colleagues quickly replied that "The comma-splice rule is totally arbitrary," and a back-and-forth ensued.
What is a comma splice?  Prof Zwicky wrote back in July
"this is not even a tempest in a teapot, it’s a fuss in a thimbleful of spit."
That's two independent clauses joined only by a comma, or a comma splice, sometimes called a "comma fault".
Pop over to the Economist and have your say, or join in our discussion here. Comma splice.  Pedantry or plain speaking?

05 January 2012

Be plain, or be toast!

It's time to end financial jargon, says an article in Stuff today. The article - which quotes our own Lynda Harris - challenges the need for gobbledygook in financial forms, reports, and documents. Here's a sample:
If you read it thoroughly but still don't understand it, then always challenge it, says Harris. There's no need to feel stupid or intimidated.
"We're always saying to people: `You have a right to understand.' "
In other plain English-related news,  MPs are calling the Food Bill poorly drafted and confusing.