Recently, I was treated to an evening with the wonderful Rachel McAlpine as she shared her views on the Plain English conference PLAIN 2013. Rachel McAlpine has been at the forefront of plain language use since the 90s, and is the creator of the Contented web writing courses. Plain language is in her blood, so I was thrilled to be privy to her impressions.
The two keynote speakers she saw were Neil James speaking on the Future of Plain Language in a Converging Communication Profession, and Karine Nicolay, presenting on the IC Clear initiative in Europe.
The main drive of Neil James’ presentation was that the fragmentation of Plain Language Practitioners into different “labels” (editors, technical writers, content designers etc.) has hurt us as a profession as we get siloed into government departments, never to be seen again. So what’s the answer? We could all band together under one umbrella term and work together to raise the profile of Plain Language. However, this raised a flurry of new questions:
- Plain Language belongs to everyone, but will everyone share their knowledge?.
- Does your audience dictate what you write?
- Should documents be created with more visual intent?
- Would narrowing the wide spectrum of Plain Language Practitioners to one “title” limit the expectation of the position?
Karine Nicolay’s presentation on the IC Clear initiative is something that I’m sorry to have missed. The IC Clear initiative is a European group developing a post-graduate course for clear communication to increase accessibility. They work on the principles that clear communication should be an interdisciplinary field, encompassing:
- Usability techniques
- Clear writing
- Design for clarity
- Project management
It wasn’t all keynote speakers at PLAIN 2013. Rachel was also promoting the re-release of her book Global English for Global Business, which was initially released in the 90s. Global English covers how to use Plain English with an ESOL audience in mind. It highlights the assumption that everyone who speaks English as their mother tongue is an expert, which is not the case, as native English speakers are more lackadaisical with their language. ESOL teachers should stop trying to make “Native” English speakers and start making “Plain” English speakers.
It also asserts the need for translatable English. With more companies using translation technology, English must be kept plain and have simple sentence structure so the software can work with it. Everyone has their own version of English, so in order to be understood on the international stage, using the right word for the job is vital. Consider the word “go”, as an example. It has multiple meanings: “Go over there”, “on the go”, “go on”, etc. “Proceed”, on the other hand, only has one meaning. Using the right word will save on documents having hovercrafts full of eels due to translation software misreading.
Rachel then closed with the Sublime: Seven Decades, Seven Truths, in which she divulged the secrets to keeping the love for your craft alive that she’s learned in the time she’s been writing. I could tell you what they are, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.