Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN) surveyed members and took action on their request for more digital content. During International Plain Language Month (October), PLAIN Matters live host Romina Marazzato Sparano interviewed fellow Plain Language Academy team members to find out where the profession is headed. Here are some #PlainLanguageAcademy team insights.
Chantale Audet, Autrementdit.Ca: Global expansion of plain language comes with the fact we are stronger together.
Sarah Slabbert, Plain-Language.Co.Za: Plain Language has evolved over the past number of years from narrowly focusing on language to include design, user needs assessment, and usability testing. This broadening of the scope of Plain Language is an exciting development that makes it essential for the communication platforms of the digital age.
Romina Marazzato Sparano, LanguageCompass.Com and Lenguajeclaro:
We are growing and we are stronger together. We are moving forward and looking at guidelines for many languages. The better the start, the better results.
Promoting plain language
Kate Harrison Whiteside, PlainLanguageAcademies.Com: We are moving into the human age of plain language, we’re involving audiences. We just can’t afford to be unclear.
Chantale Audet, Autrementdit.Ca: We have to keep up our advocacy work: plain language is a very important tool to improve human lives. It helps achieve UN sustainability goals and empowers people to have their rights respected, make better choices for their lives.
Sarah Slabbert, Plain-Language.Co.Za: Ask clients what they are spending and what are they are gaining. How much money are you wasting producing communications that aren’t read or understood and are thrown away?
Nicole Watkins Campbell, Plain Words: It’s just crucial that we have governments, organizations and companies who have those skills to communicate clearly, simply, effectively and efficiently because there’s almost always going to be a reader or listener who is trying to translate while they take in your message.
Kate Harrison Whiteside, PlainLanguageAcademies.Com: Two students with disabilities are studying about plain language at the Academy so they can tell people to consider audience accessibility when they’re communicating and understand the role plain language plays.
Sarah Slabbert, Plain-Language.Co.Za: Our experience as instructors of students from different types of organizations from different sectors and our experience in working with corporate clients has taught us that there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy to implement plain language. You have to tailor it for specific needs.
Cheryl Stephens, CherylStephens.Com: We need to get our clients to stop for a moment and consider the situation and background of their readers. Practitioners need to get up to date on recent science in communication, modernize what clear communication means.
Involving readers and end-users
Chantale Audet, Autrementdit.Ca: There’s so much to be gained by involving readers from the beginning of the process. Ask them about what they already know, what they need to know, and their ideas how we can best convey the information. When we have readers on our team they can help us see if we are on the right track, if there’s an information gap, or if we need to clarify something.
Sarah Slabbert, Plain-Language.Co.Za: Often the communication process only includes the plain language practitioners right at the end. And then, if you have the budget you test with end-users. That’s hopelessly too late. You will have a much more effective process if you bring practitioners and end-users in at the beginning.
ISO (Plain language standard coming in 2023)
Chantale Audet, Autrementdit.Ca: The issues around and standards. I think having standards helps us explain to French-speaking communities what plain language means. We always see a reaction when we say ISO standards are coming. It really convinces.
Nicole Watkins Campbell, Plain Words: There are so many people who don’t understand what plain language is. The more people who are describing it in the same way, the easier to hear exactly what it is. It will give us something to go back to when we are teaching.
Romina Marazzato Sparano, LanguageCompass.Com and Lenguajeclaro: Plain language ISO standard will need people’s alignment not hesitation around regulations. In reality, the idea of ISO is the opposite: it is about guidelines for clarity of the process behind the communication. One of the aspects of standards being embraced is the human intervention, especially for tasks, like translation, which are becoming increasingly automated. We need to have that human intervention.
Cheryl Stephens, CherylStephens.Com: I see the ISO standard as a means of quality control. When Kate and I founded Plain Language International, over 30 years ago, this was one of our main concerns. We were having to repeat our pitch on what plain language is and why it would be beneficial.
Kate Harrison Whiteside, PlainLanguageAcademies.Com: For the first time we will have a unified or a set of guidelines that we can all use. The guidelines will be set, and they will make what we offer to others even stronger.
Nicole Watkins Campbell, Plain Words: So much worth celebrating. We have online training. People can study when they want, and many opportunities to learn. There are so many people in so many languages who understand the importance of plain language and want to learn, especially about health.
Romina Marazzato Sparano, LanguageCompass.Com and Lenguajeclaro: We are growing and we are stronger together. We are moving forward and looking at guidelines for many languages, the better the start, the better the results.
Cheryl Stephens, CherylStephens.Com: When Kate and I founded #IPLDay in 2011 we wanted to celebrate progress. For 30 years we’ve been making slow progress. Look at all the work our organizations have accomplished. It’s time to celebrate.
We encourage you to celebrate your #PlainLanguage achievements all year long.
#PlainLanguage #LearningExperience #GlobalEducation #ISO #IPLFederation #PLISO #IPLDay
Whether you work with internal or external clients, staff or freelancers, a successful plain language project requires open-minded, committed, knowledgeable clients and practitioners.
Earlier this year, I was so lucky to have a client who:
1. was open-minded to plain language for internal, external, print, and online information; and sharing project developments along the way.
2. committed to having training and updating their style guide.
3. knew the importance of testing during the whole plain language process. They had already done testing before we started.
All this resulted in a satisfying and successful project, certainly from my side.
Successful plain language projects involve learning and leading from both sides.
Steps to success
1. Do your research.
2. Develop a strong plan that is also flexible.
3. Be prepared to educate and learn along the way.
Successful plain language projects involve learning and leading from both sides. And, don’t forget to put the audience, readers, users at the front. They have the answers, or at least the questions that need answering and form your project plan.
Best of luck with all your plain language initiatives. If you need help or advice, take a course, book some coaching, hire an Academy consultant (services in English, French, and Spanish). We’re here to chat.
Plain language is about using everyday words and simple sentence structures. But the information must also be CORRECT. It isn’t plain if the information is wrong.
Last week, my home heating company emailed me about new pricing. They offered an email address to reach them with questions. But the email address was wrong. And actually, that's the second year in a row this has happened.
The tone of their message is perfect, and the information is clear. But they have undermined their work to build a relationship at a time when prices are rising sharply.
It takes so little time to ensure information is correct, and mere seconds to test an email address. It takes a lot longer to solve a problem created by unclear communication.
After you’ve made time to make your writing plain, quickly double-check any pertinent details. Your communication is plain language only if the information is correct.
To learn more about making your communication excellent, sign up for a course at Plain Language Academy. Your customers will thank you!
Nicole Watkins Campbell, Instructor
A2: Editing for Plainer Legal Writing
for writers with no legal training
Register now. Starts Oct 3. $275.00.CAD
A9: Editing for Plainer Technical Writing
For people who prepare technical information for non-technical readers
Register now. Starts Oct 17 $275.00.CAD
by Kate Harrison Whiteside
If there’s anything we can take into the future with us it’s the absolute need for achieving accessibility in communications. As our virtual communication reality continues to evolve, with it comes special challenges for everyone trying to deliver and receive clear messages. Here are some key links to sites with advice.
Opening the door to accessibility online
Always start with W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). It is the leading site on all web accessibility guidelines and standards. Their At-a-Glance section is your blueprint for starting an online initiative. It gives you a four-point strategy to follow. It advises providing alternative media, such as audio- or video-only versions, captions, pre-recorded sign language. But, like all great communications, whether virtual or in-person, getting to know your audience’s needs is the starting point.
Focus on inclusivity
A recent article on David Berman Communications’ website, “Accessible online meetings”, provides insights and tips on how to be inclusive during online meetings. This aspect of clear and accessible communication may create some nervousness and discomfort as we enter unfamiliar territory, on both sides of the table. The basic advice is simple: ask questions to clarify what is needed.
Carefully examining the words we use is a great place for meeting hosts to start. Avoid the terms like disabled or handicapped and acknowledge others as our participant who lives with their disability. Or say, we welcome Dr. Smith who uses a wheelchair, rather than is confined to their wheelchair. One word can make a world of difference. This is clarity with a dash of empathy and respect.
Introductions are a critical aspect of accessibility in meetings—virtual or face-to-face. Ensure to give participants the option to introduce themselves and be patient. Once the meeting begins, remember you may be interacting with a person:
Plain Language and accessibility
The field of plain language is moving quickly towards ISO recognition, further emphasizing the importance of audiences. Helping readers get the information they want, find, understand, and use it are the foundation of plain language. Always start with a clear picture of who you are communicating with and what they need.
Each disability community has its own way of communicating. For example, Deaf is spelled with a capital D. It includes people who are culturally deaf (born deaf) and medically deaf (hearing loss coming later in life). Remember also that hearing can be temporary or vary in its affect. Our own cultural experiences may have left us with a narrow view of hearing challenges that needs to be widened.
Feel free to ask for and offer help.
Be patient, speak clearly, and use familiar (plain) words. Do your research before communicating. Get to know your audience, and what you need to ensure your messages are received and understood. People are the key to communicating and it’s our job as the creators of messages to ensure there is a connection.
What can I do?
Gaining accessibility skills is more important than ever. Each of us can take steps acquire new ideas:
1.have an expert do a presentation to your team
2.ensure accessibility sessions are on your professional conference agendas
3.identify a person to be the key resource for your organization.
As writers and editors we often focus on words for each situation, but we also need to look at the human factor.
We are excited to share the Plain Language Academies’ new energy in 2022. Courses in English, Spanish, French and in South Africa are on the menu, along with new courses dealing with timely topics like climate change. We're here for you.
Time for clarity about climate change
The Academies welcome new instructor, author Erin Lebacqz, delivering Writing Clearly About Climate Change and the Environment.* Climate is one of the most important global issues and that makes communicating clearly about it so important.
“I believe we can make a difference in our society through plain and clear writing,” says Erin Lebacqz, who is passionate about this topic
In the course you’ll learn strategies for writing clearly about topics like the environment, energy, and climate change by digging deep into both the meaning and potential implication of words. You’ll learn to manage meaning by presenting information in ways your readers can understand and use. It will also help you empower readers.
Find out more about Erin and her new book at High Value Writing.
*Course starts March 7. Fee is in USD.
Watch for our upcoming live chats on LInkedIn and YouTube.
Discounts and discoveries
The Academies' three Core courses (Basics, Audiences, and Writing and Editing) are designed to start your skills journey. We have bundled them together for you in a special discount package. Register for all three (individually) and receive a refund discount of 15% ($115.00 CAD). They are also required courses if you are aiming to go for the six-course Letter of Achievement.
Moving your skills into the future
Video sessions are part of all the Advanced courses. Use this time and the in-course discussions to share, get to know fellow students, and learn from each other. Our Advanced courses are designed to deliver on specialized topics.
Here's a quick view of six options:
Plain Language 2.0 and Health Literacy: now in Spanish and English
Putting Clients First in Legal Writing: new in 2022
Editing for Plainer Legal Writing or Editing for Plainer Technical Writing: take your pick or do both
Implementing Plain Language as a Strategic Priority: success through planning
Writing Clearly About Climate Change and the Environment: a very timely topic
Plain Language Project Leadership: help for content creators
Go to Courses page for full list. Register at our online Academy.
Check out all 11 Advanced courses to find your choice. If you don't see it, please email Kate at GetInTouch@PlainLanguageAcademy.Com
How to take PLA courses
For courses at the Plain Language Academy:
Once we receive your payment, you will have access to your course when it starts. Courses combine self-directed, student interactive, instructor supported activities and feedback. Advanced courses include a live session.
If you have any ideas, questions, or want help, please email GetInTouch@PlainLanguageAcademy.Com.
Meeting Our Reader’s Needs with Plain, Intentional Writing
by Erin Lebacqz
Author of High-Value Writing
Instructor for Writing Clearly About Climate Change and the Environment
As we start the new year with goals for writing clearly, it’s a great time to consider our words’ deeper meanings, and their potential impact on our varied readers. By thinking about word choice and word order through a High-Value Writing perspective, we can write directly and clearly while still sounding friendly and familiar. In short, we can be both concise and nice!
Using Words Economically
Part of writing with plain language includes using familiar words efficiently and economically. Instead of saying “We are having a discussion about writing,” then, we might opt for “We discuss writing” instead. This change allows us to provide the same amount of meaning, but more economically and in less real estate.
By doing this, we also recognize that some words—like “discuss”—provide a lot of meaning in a small amount of space. Condensing in this way can help us write more plainly by not bogging down our readers with extra words.
Studying Meaning and Tone with High-Value Writing
Although it seems logical that all words would offer meaning (Why else would they exist?!), in fact, some words offer hardly any meaning at all. For example, “I think I’ll study plain language” means the same thing as “I think that I’ll study plain language,” making us wonder: What was the meaning of “that” in this sentence?
Similarly, we often write slow sentence lead-ins that don’t have tons of meaning. Many of us do this out of habit; our brains pick up certain phrases and we end up repeating them—even if they’re not super meaningful. For example, “This is to inform you that we booked your appointment” could simply become “We booked your appointment.” The first six words in the first version actually offered almost no meaning!
Being Both Concise and Nice
When we write plainly, we succeed in being direct and clear. However, sometimes direct writing can feel like it lacks friendliness. Fortunately, we can write both concisely and nicely at the same time! We don’t have to sacrifice courtesy to write clearly and directly.
For example, if you received a holiday gift from a company you work with, you might have gotten a message like “Please accept this company gift.” While this sentence is perfectly clear and direct, we can add more kindness by switching to “Please enjoy this company gift.” By studying word meaning and impact, we can write the same plain message in the same amount of words—but balance concision with courtesy.
Happy New Year and let’s make it a year of clear, impactful communication!
More languages, more accessibility
English courses with Kate and the Plain Language Academy team continue to expand at plainlanguageacademy.moodlecloud.com/.
Want to study in French? Chantale Audet and Amélie Bourret, from Autrement dit, are soon opening the doors to our French Academy, Clair et Simple.
Wish to study plain language in Spanish? Romina Marazzato Sparano, from Language Compass, has set up our Spanish Academy at educlaro.moodlecloud.com.
Join in the learning, choose the language you prefer, and enjoy.
Learn to be a strategic plain language planner
The first Plain Language as a Strategic Priority Advanced course was a huge success. One student wrote: “Thank you for a fantastic course. This perspective on Plain Language is quite unique. I’ve learnt a lot.’’ Now the course is back for a second offering of advice and practice on how to integrate plain language into your organization through strategic planning.
Sarah Slabbert and Nadja Green, Plain Language Institute, SA, bring a wealth of experience and will share it in the course materials, activities and discussions. The course equips you with a portfolio of planning documents and skills to implement plain language in your organizations. You can still join in. Register now.
Three easy steps to enrol on Moodle
All three academies are running on Moodle. You first need your own Moodle account to register and gain access to courses.
Email email@example.com or your Academy’s contact if you need help.
Des nouvelles de l’Académie du langage clair et simple
Vos documents sont-ils en langage clair et simple ? Autrement dit vous offre la possibilité de participer à un atelier pratique pour le découvrir. Rien de mieux que de vous pratiquer sur vos propres documents pour poser vous-même un diagnostic. Qui est le public visé par votre communication ? Votre objectif est-il clair ? Comment pouvez-vous améliorer la structure de votre document, la façon de l’écrire et sa présentation visuelle ? Assistez à cet atelier pratique pour savoir comment répondre à toutes ces questions !
Titre : Vos documents sont-ils en langage clair et simple ? Atelier pratique pour faire votre propre diagnostic
Animation : Amélie Bourret et Chantale Audet, Autrement dit.
Coût : Gratuit
Quand : Surveillez les fils PlainLanguageAcademies.com, LinkedIn, et Facebook pour connaître la date exacte.
Pour plus d’information : firstname.lastname@example.org
Gracieuseté de Plain Language Academies
News from Académie du langage clair et simple
Are your documents in plain language? Autrement dit gives you the opportunity to participate in a workshop to find out. Nothing better than practicing on your own documents to make an assessment yourself. Who is the target audience for your documents? Is your purpose clear? How can you improve the structure of your document, the way you write it and its visual presentation? Attend this hands-on workshop to find out how to answer all these questions!
Title: Are your documents in plain language? Workshop to make your own assessment
Workshop facilitators: Amélie Bourret and Chantale Audet, Autrement dit.
When: During the International Plain Language Week in October 10-16, 2021
Watch the Plain Language Academies website, LinkedIn and Facebook for the date.
For more information: email@example.com
An academy within the Plain Language Academies
Noticias sobre la Academia de Lenguaje Claro
El programa en español de las Academia de Lenguaje Claro abre este otoño con un curso sobre alfabetización en salud. Como se evidencia ante esta nueva realidad de Covid-19, la alfabetización en salud es ahora más importante que nunca. La falta de comprensión y conocimientos sobre la salud lleva a sufrir consecuencias reales.
Nuestra Academia de Lenguaje Claro, EduClaro, se ve fortalecida por la diversidad de perspectivas que aportan estudiantes e instructores provenientes de todo Estados Unidos, América Latina y España. ¡Te invitamos a unirte a nuestros cursos!
Mantente actualizado en el sitio web de Plain Language Academies, LinkedIn y Facebook.
Romina Marazzato Sparano, firstname.lastname@example.org
An academy within the Plain Language Academies
News from Academia de Lenguaje Claro
The Spanish program at Plain Language Academies is launching this Fall with its Health Literacy course. As we continue to navigate the new Covid-19 reality, health literacy skills are now more important than ever! Without health literacy, people can suffer real consequences.
Our Academia de Lenguaje Claro, EduClaro, is strengthened by the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives represented in students and instructors who come from across the United States, Latin America, and Spain. We invite you to join our courses!
Watch the Plain Language Academies website, LinkedIn, and Facebook for upcoming info.
An academy within the Plain Language Academies
Academies team wins PLAIN Innovation Award
“The best part of winning the Plain Language Association International Cheryl Stephens Innovation Award was sharing it with the whole Academies team,” said Kate Harrison Whiteside, Academies director. “With the Spanish and French academies coming this fall, more courses offered through Plain Language Institute, SA, and new options, our confidence in having a long-term, positive impact on plain language learning is growing, along with our students.”
“Brilliant, Kate! We’re very proud to be part of your team.” Sarah Slabbert and Nadja Green, Plain Language Institute, SA.
Find out more on plainlanguageacademies.com or email email@example.com
As the Academies grew, now including English, French and Spanish options, we kept our commitment to be like plain language itself.
We moved to Moodle to help make learning easier and better. To join a course you need to:
1. go to plainlanguageacademy.moodlecloud.com,
2. create your account
3. choose and register for your courses.
You will have access the day the course starts.
If you have any questions or issues, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Choose from our three Core courses on Basics, Audiences, and Writing and Editing.
Or, select an Advanced course suited to your current or upcoming needs. Topics include creating e-content, legal editing, technical editing, health literacy, design, feedback testing, science, and strategic planning, and projects. More courses are coming.
We are so excited about our new platform, we just want everyone else to share the experience.
Visit our Courses page to find out more, check dates, and use the registration links.
Plain Language Academy instructors take their skills to the PLAIN Board
The PlainLanguageAcademy.com (PLA) is proud to have two of its instructors join the Plain Language Association International’s Board. Nicole Watkins Campbell, Watkins Campbell Communications, is their new Treasurer. Romina Marazzato Sparano, Language Compass , joins as a Board Member.
“I am excited about working with the PLAIN board to provide a place where plain language practitioners and educators can share ideas and broaden the use of plain language,”said Nicole, who teaches Editing for Plainer Legal Writing for the Academy.
“As a Board member, I am ready to help wherever I’m needed,” said Romina, who teaches Plain Language 2.0 and Health Literacy for the Academy. “My interests in serving the members include updating our directory with dynamic features for clients to find members and for members to share with each other. I’m keen to explore how PLAIN can support certification pathways for practitioners and continue the work for transparency. Also, as an educator, I’m very excited about linking members with resources to learn new skills and polish existing ones in order to bring readers information they can easily use to ‘better themselves, their communities, and their environment!’”
“We have the plain language ISO standards coming to lead us into the future, virtual conferences opening the doors to more participants, and new services being added for PLAIN members,” said Kate Harrison Whiteside, PLA founder.
“As a co-creator and former board member of PLAIN, I am looking forward to the developments Nicole, Romina and the Board introduce. Everyone will benefit from their input, including their students at the Academy.”
PLAIN is an international organization connecting clear communication practitioners and advocates from over 30 countries. Their next global conference (virtual) is in May 2021. Connect with the PLA on:
Nicole Watkins Campbell, Watkins Campbell Communications
Romina Marazzato Sparano, Language Compass
by Nicole Watkins Campbell
Editing for Plainer Legal Writing Instructor
The best way to ensure your document meets readers’ needs is to test it with the audience. Even testing that is quick and cheap can give you useful information about how to improve your document.
What is a test?
A test can be as simple as asking a colleague or a citizen to answer one question about your text or as complicated as inviting 30 people to read your document and answer questions. Almost any test will help you make the writing better. And any test with a member of your audience will get you closer to writing that works for your readers.
When should you test?
Start testing as soon as you have enough material to test. Don’t wait until your document is complete unless it’s a short email.
Make corrections based on feedback, and test again, if you can. The best practice is to test a couple of times, and more if the text is important and could be difficult for your readers.
How should you test?
Several methods will help you improve your document.
Record your results in some way:
Who should you recruit?
Testing documents internally with co-workers while you’re still writing is highly useful. You can then test a final draft with someone from outside your team. Your co-workers will likely read about as well as you do and have the same technical understanding, so you will want other perspectives on the complexity of the language and the topic.
Don’t test with people who know the information in the document or people who helped you get to this point in creating this document. They will know too much about your subject area to notice what’s missing or out of place.
Your word processor or a website like Hemingway Editor will offer quick readability tests. But these long-established ways of describing how readable a text is actually don’t mean much. They were originally created to measure children’s reading skills, not documents for adults.
The software counts syllables (to represent complexity in language), words and paragraphs (to represent complexity in expression) to roughly estimate reading difficulty. The resulting number claims to reflect the number of years of education a person needs to read the text.
Readability measures fail in three main ways:
If your text readability score from Microsoft Word or Hemingway Editor is gets a Grade 10 or higher, you probably need to edit for clarity: many people don’t read at this level. If you test again, you will be able to see if your changes made your sentences easier to read, but you should rely on other methods to make sure your text is clear.
Try setting up a simple test of a bit of writing this week. You will learn something surprising or pleasing. But you will learn something.
Nicole Watkins Campbell
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