The assignment was simple in theory…
The assignment was simple in theory–choose one of the article options given to us by our professor, apply the method of plain language to it, and create a clear and concise piece explaining the message. Each of the text options ranged from 8-10 pages and were so laden with filler sentences and convoluted language just reading the intro was a headache.
Our professor looked out at our twisted up faces and asked if we had any questions, to which one student said, “So we just dumb it down like twitter, makes sense.” Never has the term “bristled” so accurately described a human being as it did my professor in that moment.
“If that’s the view you would like to take, I would make the strong suggestion you reconsider this major. Communication is about conveying a message, and if your audience doesn’t understand your message then you’ve failed.” That was my first week studying rhetoric, and by the second week a fourth of my class had opted for an easier option.
What was fascinating as a student learning about the history and theory of communication was how new plain language was to writers. I remember reading through countless texts in class and finding how so many people seemed to find comfort in hiding themselves behind unnecessary wordage. It seemed someone would write an article, take a step back, and then open a thesaurus and change every word to make things more complicated.
The other discovery I made was that I was just as guilty. After turning in my first draft of the assignment, I went from overly confident to plain humbled as my sheet was returned to me massacred by red ink. I was just as bad as all the others.
From there I learned what was really important to me in a communications major. While most of my peers were writing thesis papers on social media, using twitter for classroom discussions and exploring the potential for advertising using snapchat, I was throwing myself into rhetoric and the theory of well-rounded simplicity. The concept that a message can be short and simple without sacrificing content and reader interest was a great revelation.
So I graduated as a rare breed of communications major who didn’t live by the social media bible and didn’t plan to twitter professionally. Instead, I fell in love with language and rhetoric, and I have plain language and one 10-page article on polygamy to thank for that.
Katherine Flaherty is a recent graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in communications with a focus in rhetoric. After graduation Katherine packed her bags and moved to DC in hopes of pursuing a career in writing and public relations.