When communication isn’t clear, the result is burden. In health care this burden is often borne by someone who is already carrying rocks in their pack (feeling sick, worried or exhausted). Now, in addition to missing work, paying for medications and doing what it takes to heal, energy must go to deciphering unnecessarily complex information. Common examples include care instructions, medical bills or conversations with providers (“What did the doctor say?”).
Plain Language Blog Articles
For two years, I worked as a college writing center tutor while enrolled in a graduate professional writing program. Over those two years, I studied, practiced, and helped others with clear writing. While the papers I read every day in the writing center ranged from argumentative essays, persuasive essays, and research papers, to more creative, narrative essays, they all had one thing in common: they were written for a target audiience—a professor. And from assignment conception to finished product, plain language played a significant role.
The plain language world is filled with passionate people who believe strongly in the power and importance of clarity. We spend our days fighting jargon and legalese like the true foes they are. We help our clients share clear, empathetic messages that reflect their audience’s true needs.
But, for many of us, looking more closely at our own communications may uncover an unfortunate secret: The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
The Center for Plain Language had this to say about the legal fine print that overran one advertisement for an investment product: “Once again a financial institution that expects me to trust them with my money makes it impossible for me to know what they are going to do with my money.”
The Center had singled out a Charles Schwab & Co. ad for a Wondermark “award” for unintelligible writing.
I expect 99.9% of the public wouldn’t understand this information on a university website explaining (I think) that the owner of content on a website is responsible for that content. I bet you thought “assets” meant “money,” but this information comes from the IT unit. “Assets” means web content. To be fair, the intended audience likely is IT people, so perhaps the language is appropriate for them. Perhaps.
A quote (as pointed out by an alert twitter user) variously attributed to Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Cicero, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, and Mark Twain states, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Coming across this comment again recently reminded me of the familiar complaint that plain language somehow equals “Dumbing Down.”