ClearMark judge Geraldine Hynes, PhD, is a communication consultant and executive coach for business, government, and nonprofit organizations. Her award-winning research has been published in scholarly journals and books in several countries and languages.
How did you learn about plain language and become a volunteer judge for the ClearMark Awards?
Gerry: “An esteemed colleague, Lee Johns, has enthusiastically promoted the work of the Center for Plain Language for many years. My respect for her motivated me to become involved, so three years ago I joined her team of judges for the ClearMark Awards. She lit a fire in me.”
What are some of the hallmarks of excellent plain language content? In other words, when you’re judging the ClearMarks, what makes you think “this one could be a winner!”?
Gerry: “In most situations, writing is transactional – one writes to a particular audience in order to change their behaviors, knowledge, or beliefs. Writers will achieve their purpose if they keep the intended audience in mind as they organize ideas, choose words, and select formats. The essence of plain language is the ‘you’ viewpoint.”
What do you wish more people knew about Plain Language
Gerry: “Two common reasons for resisting plain language are:
- Writers sometimes fear that their message will lose meaning or nuance if they use simple expressions, but the opposite is true. The purpose of plain language is to illuminate, not to obfuscate. To achieve this purpose, writers use language that the intended readers will understand.
- Writers sometime fear that their message will not have a professional tone if they use simple expressions, but again, the opposite is true. A writer’s professional image is enhanced by messages that are easy to read. The bond between writer and reader strengthens when a message is clearly written.”
You were also a judge for our special COVID-19 communications category this year. Why does plain language matter for communications about the pandemic?
Gerry: “The most critical communication purpose is to ensure readers’ safety. In a life-threatening crisis, all other writing purposes fall away. Safety and survival depend on the readers’ ability to understand a message and their willingness to comply with advocated actions.”
Gerry retired from the College of Business Administration, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, and is a past president of the Association for Business Communication.