Plain language still evokes many questions. What is it all about? How does it work? What benefits are there? You can simply answer the questions. Or, you can ask for some time to do a training exercise to bridge the knowledge gap. This can be anything from a short team training exercise, a learning-at-lunch program, presentation to key leaders or an event keynote presentation. Of course, you can run a workshop. So, what are some of your options?
Audience awareness plays a huge part in plain language. You need a detailed picture of your audience for your team to create, commit to and use throughout the project. Personas involve drawing pictures or creating profiles of your audience using research on their lifestyle, cultural, social, professional and personal activities and values. Usability.gov has an excellent description of how to do personas. I find it a fun activity to open a training activity or for team building.
Develop content for a style guide
Integrating plain language guidelines into an existing style guide or creating a stand-alone guide is a great investment with a long shelf life. Focus on jargon and simple words that can replace your organizations in-house language. Everyone appreciates a writing resource. They save time, create shared techniques, enhance peoples’ skills. Integrating it into an existing style guide increases its value and can be a great stepping stone to a learning event.
Create a plain language checklist
Plain language checklists are available online. Most are very generic. Get your communications and plain language project teams together to brainstorm a checklist specific to your task, your audience or organization. This increases colleagues’ understanding of, skills for and commit to plain language.
Carry out an audit
Without embarrassing or intimidating anyone, carry out a plain language audit. Gather a team and collect a variety of documents or information sources and measure against selected plain language guidelines. Share the findings and as a group come up with recommendations for future information.
Apply for an award
Awards offer several opportunities for learning and committing to plain language. It helps others see what the standards are in the profession. If you are recognized, you have motivation to move forward with your plans. PLAIN ( Plain Language Association InterNational) offers members opportunities to be recognized at its conferences. Other organizations offer annual awards. Just participating can be rewarding.
Integrate training into your plain language projects, style guides, training plans. Reap the benefits.
By Cheryl Stephens
Plain language projects, like any others, can be enhanced by clear documentation. Plain Language Academy program advisor and facilitator Cheryl Stephens shares four ways to track your project progress, for current and future needs. Thanks Cheryl.
For a freelance writer-editor, many jobs are short-run, although there may be repeat assignments with the same client. Early in your career, one tends to think of some jobs as quick and easy to do, so the engagement is not fully documented. In situations when you are working with a team member, you may not view it as your job because there is someone else who is supposed to do it.
Just remember, it is your career and your reputation at stake.
Create a case study
After a two-year project, I was asked to write an article about the project. It was then I wished I had made notes along the way and treated the writing project like a case study. In another instance, deemed an emergency by the client, I finished a short, written piece in one day. Later, there were many occasions when I wanted to use this piece as an example, but could not recall the details.
Many of us use checklists to make sure we cover off all the standard issues—in a written piece or an entire project. Checklists are good, but even better if you annotate them with some detail.
Write Interim report or memo to file
For project needs, an interim report is sent to the client or team, to bring everyone up to date on the status of the work-in-progress. A memo to file is used, but not circulated, to record some difficulty or reason to change the project's direction. Sometimes the memo to file is not kept in the project file, but in your own folder. A CMA (cover my ass) folder keeps information available, if you should ever need to CMA.
Track with originating documents
Of course you should always have a contract that sets out the expectations for each person involved, but sometimes an editing or writing project is started less formally. Then, the first memo should set out those parameters and it should be sent to the client. You can refer to it when things start to go sideways. Sometimes, veering sideways is unavoidable due to external developments, and you should record those changes and new decisions in a memo to file.
Learn more in Academy courses
You can get the full complement of skills needed for plain language project management by taking our six-course Foundation Program, or selecting Course 6: Plain Language Project, or its options (adding on coaching and consulting services). Registration is open. Visit Calendar for start dates.
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