Down with blah blah blah

blah.jpg The WriteMark Plain English Conference and Awards 2007 was an invigorating bash. And that's a compliment: you can't always say that about a conference. Highlights for me ...

  1. MCs Duncan Sarkies and Lee Hatherly amused us throughout the day, and surreptitiously kept proceedings on track.
  2. We had choices. Which meant we moved from room to room. Which meant we did not turn into rice puddings.
  3. Lynda Harris of the Write Group, leader of the plain English movement in New Zealand, gave a couple of short, clear, inspiring speeches. Lynda proved yet again that she is a professional heavyweight.
  4. Dr Annetta Cheek discussed the fulltime strategising (if that's a word), lobbying, drafting, discussions and compromise behind the Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007. Dr Cheek has been a prime mover in the plain language movement in the USA since 1994, and retired expressly to push for this bill. We have no such legislation and we should get cracking.
  5. Dr Susan Kleimann focused on documents derived from regulations—policy in action, such as tax forms. She spoke of the need for high level policy analysts to let go of what they “know”, and to think about the reader. This is not a straight think + write process.
  6. Christopher Balmford trounced all the recurring objections to plain language, and demonstrated the extent of our own hypocrisy. As readers, everyone in our group liked a subject line "We underpaid you", but 13/15 would be uneasy about writing it. Christopher took no prisoners.
  7. Dave Brown of A.J. Park and Anton Murashev of Castalia gave the good news about transforming companies into plain English organisations. It can be done.
  8. Nathan McDonald handed out small cards that summarise key points of his Mustor Institute. Cool idea. Here's a clue: You MUST pay this invoice OR go to jail. The structure applies to regulations and procedures about everything from international traffic in arms to managing kakapo copulation.
  9. John Ansell's keynote address at the awards was very funny. He's a poet and punning advertiser. Kevin Milne as MC was again an inspired choice.
  10. My brand new Asus eee PC worked nicely on battery. But only for 2.5 hours.

Quotes:

  • In a democracy, citizens deserve plain language. It's a civil right. (A.C.)
  • Complicated is easy. Clarity is simplicity. Simplicity is hard... but possible. (S.K.)
  • The thicker the report, the thicker the writer. (J.A.)
  • 89 percent of people don't want change, they want things to stay the same. (S.K.)
  • You must have measures of success: otherwise people just whine. (S.K.)
  • You can't train managers but you can brief them. (A.C.)
  • Many aphorisms from C.B. but I was laughing too hard to write them down.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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