On a Plain

People say I have an accent that can make me hard to understand. I know that I speak plainly. They are just distracted by my southern charm and wit. I have also been accused of writing the way I speak. I do my best to keep contractions that make Paul cringe out of my writin’.  For those who work for the federal government, speaking or writing plainly is now a mandate signed by President Obama. On October 13, 2010, he signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010. The deadline for implementing portions of the law is fast approaching (July 2011).

When you look through the guidelines provided by the the Plain Language Action and Information Network (or PLAIN, which is not nearly as clever as IBD) you can see many common threads between the recommendations and interpretive writing. (Aside #1: I find it interesting that it took 112 pages for the federal government to outline how to write plainly.) (Aside #2: I also find it interesting that they recommend that you avoid the use of parenthesis in communication.) With topics like “Think about your audience, and organize” you can see the power of using interpretive techniques to improve communication.

There’s a section or two about grammar, nouns, verbs, and all that stuff that Paul loves to write about that I don’t really get but it must be important in some way to writing but I’m sure Paul will get around to writing a post about sometime between now and the next three years. (I wonder if Paul can resist editing this sentence?) I did read the first sentence of that section, which I liked: “Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Choose your words carefully – be precise and concise.”

The section on writing for the web makes some interesting points that Paul and I have ignored on this blog. This image from the website shows how the human eye tracks on websites. The area shown in red is where the viewer spent the majority of their time.

If we had room in the budget (or any budget at all) and had the exact same study done on IBD, it would be expected that posts such as Monday’s Pick a side: Do you indent the first line of your first paragraph? written by Paul Caputo would yield the following results (keep in mind the area shown in red is where the visitor spent the majority of their time).

Take some time and brush up on your plain writing skills. You may find validity in some of your tried and true interpretive writing techniques.

4 thoughts on “On a Plain

  1. Shea, I’m not sure I could have edited that sentence if I wanted to.

  2. So I went to the website “PLAIN.gov” and spent some time clicking around. I ended up on “Popular Topics: Regulations” and for grins decided to peruse the latest Executive Order that put this into motion. Its readability statistics put it on an ease of 21.5 and a grade level of 11.3. Not bad- it could be understood by about 40% of the population. I for one am waiting for a tax code that looks like Dr. Seuss wrote it.
    I’m pleased to see that the FAA is providing technical support for the website. That’s where my eye wandered… I’ll continue to get my coaching from you guys, since you have almost twice as many Facebook followers as PLAIN. Maybe the FAA should work on that…

  3. When I read the title of this week’s blog, I kept hearing in my mind, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

    Shea, it is not just your accent (or what you call “southern charm and wit”) that makes you hard to understand. Many times your mind, mouth and typing comes up with things we do not understand either. Like how an Arkansas boy roots for the No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees. You have so many other baseball teams to be rooting for like the Arkansas Travelers, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Birmingham Barons, the Huntsville Stars, the Mobile BayBears, the Montgomery Biscuits, the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Elizabethton Twins, the Greeneville Astros, the Jackson Generals, the Johnson City Cardinals, The Kingsport Mets, the Memphis Redbirds, the Nashville Sounds and the Tennessee Smokies. These are actually teams that are close to where you live and play real baseball, not that AL crap.

    And yes, the sentence that Paul references in his comment made us all cringe just trying to read it and figure out what the hell you were talking about, as is often the case.

    In all seriousness, the PLAIN website you referenced does have some interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing. You Rock Dood!

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