Monthly Archives: October 2012

Book Recommendation: Ain’t That a Controversy?

Looking for something to read? I was, last night when I tired of watching the news. So I downloaded The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published. As its name implies, The Story of Ain’t documents the polemic, the uproar, the utter vitriol surrounding the decision to enter the word “ain’t”–pure slang, then and now–into Webster’s Third dictionary,  released in 1961. Although I’ve only begun the book, I suspect the narrative will condense into that most basic of linguistic arguments: the prescriptive vs. the descriptive view of language. (If you know much about these views, you can guess Websters adopted the descriptive position.) Worth …

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It’s All Latin to Me! "E.g" and "I.e."

The two most common Latin terms I see in print are “e.g” and “i.e.” Writers use them to clarify a preceding statement, but we can avoid them altogether by either using the English version or rewriting the statement itself. “E.g.” means “exempli gratia,” or “for example” in English. Here’s a sample sentence.If you need to change your password–e.g., if you’ve locked yourself out of your account– do XYZ. Because technical writing relies on examples to explain concepts, you might be tempted to use “e.g.” in your work. But don’t. Most people don’t know exactly what “e.g.” means, and the English alternative works well. “I.e” is a little different. It means …

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It’s All Latin to Me! Latin Terms and Readability

Recently I posted an essay I’d loaded with Latin terms. A few days after that I posted the same essay with modern English terms where the Latinates used to be, and I promised to explain why Latin terms have no place in plain-language technical writing. I’m going to do that here, but first I have a confession: I’d planned to make my case using general readability–how easy it is for the intended audience to read and understand something–as the argument. Surely Latinates lower readability, yes? To find out, I asked the folks on a plain-language forum. Bill DuBay, a national expert in readability, replied, “Remember that it is the average …

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International Plain Language Day: Wrap-Up

On Oct 13, 2012, the Plain Language community linked up to celebrate plain language around the world. Sponsored by leading plain language experts Joe Kimble, Gael Spivak, Deborah Bosley, Karen Schriver, and Chris Mowat, and organized by many other plain language leaders, International Plain Language Day included virtual presentations by experts from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Some plain language groups met in their towns to celebrate International Plain Language Day together. I watched several of the presentations online. Although none addressed plain language in technical communication, I learned a lot from them. In particular, Rosemary Knight’s “How plain language is saving lives …

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Tomorrow is International Plain Language Day!

Don’t forget–tomorrow is IPL Day, an international event with online presentations from groups all around the world. Go to www.iplday.org to see the upcoming presentations. I’ll be there!

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It’s all Latin to Me! (Translation)

Tuesday I introduced a series on Latin terms in professional writing by using said terms in my post. Below I’ve rewritten this post without the esoterica. I’ve crossed out the Latin terms and used red for any needed compensating text. I think you’ll agree the new version resonates with the left hemisphere of your brain a lot better. What do you think? The other day–i.e., Last Friday, I realized that I haven’t discussed the use of Latin terms in plain language and technical writing.I realized this, in fact, after my husband et al. and a friend both asked me to post something about them. I happily set about researching these …

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It’s all Latin to Me!

The other day–i.e., Friday–I realized that I haven’t discussed the use of Latin terms in plain language and technical writing. I realized this, in fact, after my husband et al. asked me to post something about them. I happily set about researching these terms, because this is part of the quid pro quo between a blogger and her readers. In my research, I discovered that many writers consider Latin terms a sine qua non. Indeed, they’re a de facto part of most written works these days. So I decided to write this ad hoc post for my readers–e.g., you and others in my blogosphere. As I began my investigation, I …

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"Top Ten" Principles for Plain Language Writing

Here’s a list of guidelines for plain language writing. Can you see the irony in them?http://www.archives.gov/open/plain-writing/10-principles.html

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International Plain Language Day, October 13, 2012

Here’s a great opportunity to learn more about plain language. On Saturday, October 13th, the plain-language community is hosting the 2nd annual International Plain Language Day, a virtual conference to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Plain Writing Act. You can find out more and help sponsor the event at www.IPLDay.org. See you there!

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An Ode to the Cliche, Part 4

Last week, as I transformed my cliche-ridden essay into its informative version, I started thinking about the process I used to do it. Here are the steps I came up with, plus my recommendations in case you ever have to transform trash into treasure: 1. Recognize the piece of writing for what it is: half-baked. In informative writing, even one cliche downgrades the writing’s credibility. 2. Decipher the author’s intent. People tend to use cliches when they want to persuade their readers, so figure out what the author is trying to sell. A product? An idea? Now you know what you’re writing about. 3. Pull out the kernels of knowledge …

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