To the uninitiated, Plain English just sounds plain boring. But say those words to a room full of tech writers and the excitement starts building! Add an element of competition to that mix and you have a great night out – TCANZ Style!
Hosted by the delightfully effervescent Cindy Staudt, the recent Christchurch Branch event started with some wise reminders from Cindy on why Plain English is best, why it’s not synonymous with boring writing, and what a difference it makes to our readers.
After Cindy’s pep talk , teams of four battled it out to make sense of the nonsensical, to make clarity out of verbosity and to just write something understandable. Of course the gobbledygook examples were all real – and the evening renewed my belief that not only are our skills sorely needed, but that we must keep fighting the Plain English fight for our audiences everywhere. I don’t know about you, but when your reviewers keep adding words to your brevity, and insisting that their passive multi clause sentence remains, it can seem like you’re fighting a losing battle. And sometimes it’s tempting to give up.
At these times we need to channel our inner Chrissie Maher – the English woman who officially launched the Plain English Campaign in 1979 by shredding hundreds of government forms in in Parliament Square, London. She was fed up with trying (unsuccessfully) to get government forms simplified so that normal folk could understand them. Legend has it that when her group was asked to leave by a policeman reading out the overly complicated legalese of the Metropolitan Police Act (as it was written in 1839), Chrissie translated it into plain English and asked him ‘Does that gobbledygook mean we have to go?’ Awesome.
Chrissie shows us what can be achieved with perseverance and persistence and I challenge you all to go forth and be a Chrissie in your organisation – take a stand, be heard, and make a difference for long-suffering audiences everywhere.