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How To Learn Sign Language

Plain Language Writing


Hi! My name is Christine Ackerley and today I’m going to explain how YOU can use plain language to improve your writing and reach your audience! Plain language writing uses clear, to-the-point
wording and design, so intended readers can easily understand and use the information
you’re writing about. Why is this important? With plain language
writing, you can concisely and accurately convey information to a broad audience.
Essentially, plain language makes your writing more powerful and valuable to the world. Step 1: Ask yourself: Why are you writing?
Writing is meant to inform, to communicate ideas, and to persuade – but to really write
in plain language, you have to ask: Why are you informing readers? What do you really
want them to understand? And how do you want them to use the information you are giving
to them? For the last 6 years I’ve worked as a freelance
graphic and web designer. I’ve watched my clients slave over long reports, or copy for
their websites, and then have no one read or care about them. Because they didn’t
decide the purpose of their message before they started, they missed out on the
opportunity to use every sentence to further their message. Writing to simply raise awareness of something
isn’t enough. Are you raising awareness so readers can engage with issues politically? Are you informing
readers so you can improve their quality of life? Or are you sharing something awesome
you did so readers can implement it too? It might be a combination of reasons, but
there should always be an overarching purpose to why you’re writing. And this purpose
should answer the questions: Why are you informing your readers, what do you want them to understand,
and how do you want them to use this information? Step 2: Define your audience
Once you know why you are writing, you need to know who you’re writing for. Determining
your audience will help you choose language that they will understand. We are all specialists in our particular fields,
so we all have specialized language that can help or hinder the message we’re trying
to convey. The biggest problem is that, when we write, most of us write assuming our audience is made up of people like us. Unless you want other specialists in your field to be the ONLY people who will
read and understand your writing, then you need to know who your audience is and use
language THEY will understand. The success of writing depends solely on how
the readers receive it. It has to make sense to them. So, ask yourself: Who are you writing
for? If it’s the “general public,” then make sure you write for those least informed
about your topic. Let’s recap: Step 1 is to think about why
you are writing. Step 2 is to determine who you are writing for. Step 3 is to get systematic
with your writing. We’re all busy, and readers want to hear
your message. A great way to save time for you and your readers is by getting systematic
about your writing. Readability statistics are one way to do this.
Readability statistics allow you to determine the grade level of your writing. Microsoft
Word has a readability statistics plugin that you can turn on in the Tools menu. When you
are in the Tools menu, select Options. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab. Check the Check
grammar with spelling and Show readability statistics checkboxes. Click OK and after,
the readability statistics will pop up each time you complete a spell check. There are
also great free, online apps that serve the same purpose. My favourite is the Hemmingway
app. The goal, in plain language writing is to
aim for a grade 8 or grade 9 reading level. Once you know your readability statistics, you
can move to the next step in getting systematic: EDITING! Let’s say you write an informative, awesome
piece on sharks. You run the stats, and find out your masterpiece is written at a grade
15 reading level. That’s way too high for the average reader. So you decide to edit
your work. How do you know you’re editing properly? One shortcut I’ve learned is to use an editing
check list. An editing checklist allows you to do one or two initial edits, and eliminate
the mistakes people most commonly make. You can also personalize your checklist to include
the mistakes you commonly make. Using a checklist will help you quickly identify the problems
in your writing. Checklist items should include: breaking up
long sentences and paragraphs, shortening and simplifying words, eliminating passive
language, and adding strong verbs. The last step to improving your writing is
to be aware of the knowledge gap. As professionals, we know our subject matter so well that it’s
hard to imagine how others wouldn’t know what we know. I mean seriously, how can the
world not understand how an anatomo-politics of human and non-human bodies is sustained
by accumulating and classifying such necroliths in a museum’s observational/expositional
performances? [Uhhh] I think you get my point. So if this knowledge gap is an innate problem
for people, how do we overcome it in plain language writing? The trick is to write about
tangible objects, and give concrete examples. As you become more specialized in your field,
you know exactly what everything means. But for newcomers to your area, they still need
touchstones so they can understand to relate to what you’re writing. For example, we could write: Participants
were tested under conditions of good to excellent acoustic isolation. Or we could shorten that
to say: We tested the students in a quiet room. Using two examples also helps readers. For
example, we could write: A key differentiator in the selection process was the ICTS approach
to delivering integrated solutions, combining effective manpower, canine solutions and cutting-edge
technology. OR we could say: They chose our company because we protect buildings with
a combination of guards, dogs and sensors. No one knows what an integrated solution looks
like. You can’t draw that in Pictionary. But guards, dogs and sensors – there you
go. Another way to overcome the knowledge gap
is to get someone else – not in your field – to read your work. It can be exasperating
– how can your editor not understand the difference between community engagement and
community service learning? But it will make your writing better. So to recap: Step 1 is to think about why
you are writing. Step 2 is to determine who you are writing for. Step 3: Get systematic
with your writing by using readability statistics and editing checklists. And step 4: Span the
knowledge gap by using concrete examples to clarify your information. If you follow these 4 steps, I guarantee that
more people will be able to understand your writing. And the more people that understand,
the more likely it will be that people care. Writing is hard. Writing in plain language
is very hard. But it’s worth it, because it helps your really important information
reach the people who need it. To access some tools to help you improve your
plain language writing, visit the link on your screen (https://carleton.ca/communityfirst/2015/plain-language-video/). There you’ll be able to download
my editing checklist, written instructions on how to set up your readability statistics
in Microsoft Word, and some worksheets you can use to practice writing using plain language.
Happy writing!

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