Tip: Just say what you mean

This plain language writing tip needs no explanation: the meaning is obvious. The reason is pretty obvious too. And yet it bears constant repetition, because people forget.

In a business or government office, meaningless jargon may become so common that many otherwise normal, healthy, intelligent people think it makes sense. If you work in certain environments, you bathe in gobbledegook as it streams out of memos, reports, policy, procedures, presentations and even press releases. You yourself start writing the same jargon, confident it's the right way to go.

And you start to participate in a group hallucination. You get this extraordinary illusion that ordinary people can understand what you are saying. (Or care.)

Here's a classic example, the first two paragraphs on a government web page:

Scion places a high emphasis on developing strategic partnerships to build stronger science capability and ensure the delivery of worthwhile outcomes.

We have developed a diverse range of relationships with other research organisations, industry groups, and commercial businesses, both nationally and internationally, to greatly expand the potential of science-related opportunities.

Flesch-Kincaid readability score: zero. That means virtually no adult reader will be able to understand it easily.

What does the author really mean, in plain language? We can figure that out. But in the end, is it worth saying?

First figure out what you really mean, then say that. If it's worth saying, say it in plain language. If it's not worth saying, don't bother.

Scion: Key Working Relationships


1 comment

Jan 26, 2010 • Posted by Tweets that mention Contented: content that makes people happy » Blog Archive » Tip: Just say what you mean -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Siegel+Gale, LLC, Contented.com and Contented.com, Cntr Plain Language. Cntr Plain Language said: Writing tip: If it’s worth saying, say it in #plainlanguage. If it’s not worth saying, don’t bother. http://ow.ly/10d8F […]

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