Monthly Archives: September 2012

An Ode to the Cliche, Part 3

Last week I posted an essay on plain language that I’d drafted using oh-so-many cliches (19, actually). In the next post, I highlighted all the cliches (in the appropriately frivolous color of salmon pink), and I promised to rewrite the beast without them. Here, then, is the essay reduced to its actual content. To learn how to write using plain language style, read and study samples of plain language writing. That’s it. Neat, huh? It’s like the short essay molted, leaving only one sentence on its bony frame. But the frame lacks some footing. Why, for example, should someone adopt plain language in business? The cliche in paragraph three of …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

The Biggest Lie on the Web

A group of volunteers got fed up with the incomprehensible terminology in “Terms of Service” agreements for Web sites and have decided to do something about it. Calling the statement “I have read and agree to the Terms of Service” the “biggest lie on the Web,” the group “Terms of Service – Didn’t Read” plans to rate Terms of Service agreements on an A – E scale. In essence, they’re bringing plain language to Terms of Service agreements so people can read and understand them. Check out the Terms of Service – Didn’t Read Web site to follow their progress.

Posted in Uncategorized.

An Ode to the Cliche, Part 2

The other day I posted a short essay and asked you to count the cliches in it.  So how many did you find? Here’s the paragraph again. I’ve highlighted each soppy, overused expression. There are 19. Don’t see all 19? Look at the dark pink phrase in the last paragraph. There I managed to embed one trope inside another. (Take that all you jargon-jivving, cliche-courting marcom writers!) With 19 cliches in three paragraphs, you can see I used 152 words to say almost nothing. Next time I’ll revise the paragraph to extricate some meaning from it, even if I have to use tweezers to do it.

Posted in Uncategorized.

An Ode to the Cliche, Part 1

Most plain language style guides recommend that writers avoid the cliche. None that I’ve found, though, say why. I know the usual arguments–cliches are vague and so overused that they’ve lost meaning–but I thought, Why not prove the rule and maybe find the exception?  Here I’ve written a short essay on plain language in cliche-ese. Read it. Then count the number of cliches. Next time I’ll tell you how many there are, and we’ll torture the essay to extract what little meaning we can from it without the cliches. To get the most bang for your buck out of plain language, you have to go the extra mile and pound …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Plain Language Style Guides: Duncan Kent & Associates

Snoop around the Web enough and you’ll find lots of informally published style guides for plain language. I like one especially well: Duncan Kent’s Sharpening Your Writing Skills, aimed at technical and other business writers. Along with the style guide, Sharpening Your Writing Skills includes writing modules with exercises to help you bring plain language into your own writing, plus a bit of humor in its sidebars. If you love writing, it’s excellent weekend reading.

Posted in Uncategorized.

A Poll Is a Poll–Except When it Isn’t

Our marketing department sent out what they called a “poll”: “Which year did we start offering product X?” I answered the question, got it wrong, and then thought, “That’s not a poll. That’s a trivia question.” I wrote the marketing department to explain the difference. (And yes, I would have done this if I’d gotten the question right.) And then I thought, Why do I care about these things? I always have–cared about these things, that is. I care about the difference between infer and imply. At Safeway, I hiss at the “Ten Items or Less” sign above the register. When I read the “poll” question, I harrumphed. (I did; …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

From the Office of Redundancy Office

Don’t you love humans? We’re so fond of talking that we like to use as many words as possible to say one thing. Here’s an article by Mickie Kennedy that calls out some of the redundancies that creep into our writing. In the first paragraph,  I found a phrase that might qualify as redundant. Can you find it? 20 redundant phrases to eliminate from your writingIt’s completely unanimous; these phrases should be past history. By Mickie Kennedy | Posted: September 7, 2012 I’m a firm advocate for getting your point across in as few words as possible. Today’s readers are more pressed for time than ever before, and as it relates …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

"Imported"–from Pennsylvania?

A favorite hobby: Watching HGTV. It pays off: My favorite hobby gave me today’s blog post. The show: “Beautiful Homes.”The speaker: An owner of one such “beautiful home” in Malibu.The topic: Furniture in the dining room of said “beautiful home.”The problem: The owner said one piece was “imported from Pennsylvania.” Imported from Pennsylvania? I thought. Is Pennsylvania a country, like Transylvania, as well as a state?  I looked up the verb “import” on Merriam-Webster. The definition leaves no room for guessing: A physical object must be imported from another country, not just another state. I know what you’re thinking: The guy’s a movie mogul, not a Rhodes Scholar; Quit being …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Plain Language: Stand in the Gap

Read any plain-language style manual and you’ll find plenty of advice about word choice. “Choose the shorter word over the longer one,” they say. And, “Avoid using two words when one word will do.” To read the guides, you’d think plain language is all about choosing one set of words over another. When I first started studying plain language, that’s what I thought too. A letter from my bank suggested something else. The letter was about the mortgage loan my husband and I have on the house we bought three years ago. Here’s how the letter began: “BankX is writing to let you know that you are no longer required …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.