Issue 45 November, 2016
Is Trump the new poster boy for plain language?
Dear <<First Name>>,
As a Canadian, I won’t comment on the recent U.S. election. But I will say it’s interesting that certain aspects of president-elect Donald Trump’s speaking style could be considered plain language.
Usually, you think of plain language as being kind to your readers or listeners. Plain language makes both speaking and writing more conversational, concise and easy to understand. It helps you get ideas across quickly, even complex ones, and you spend less time trying to explain or correct misunderstandings.
Some of the ways you can aim for plain language:
- Write in a conversational style. The point is not to “dumb down” your writing but make it easy to understand. The average American (and presumably Canadian) adult reads at a seventh- to ninth-grade level. Ernest Hemingway wrote at a fourth-grade level.
- Use short, everyday words with an average of five characters (“use” instead of “utilize”). Reading/listening difficulty increases when too many words are longer than two syllables.
- “Cut out unnecessary words,” says Public Works and Government Services Canada. Turn “at this point in time” to “now,” for example.
- Tighten and shorten sentences. The American Press Institute says when the average sentence has fewer than eight words, readers understand 100% of the story. Even at 14 words, they could understand more than 90% of the information, reports Ann Wylie.
- Use examples and analogies to explain complicated topics. “No one will ever complain that you’ve made things too simple to understand,” says Ann Handley.
Also notice #2 – short, everyday words. Analysts have found that Trump heavily favours words of one and two syllables (Huge! Nasty woman!).
The Boston Globe reviewed the language used by 19 presidential candidates, noting that “Simpler language resonates with a broader swath of voters in an era of 140-character Twitter tweets and 10-second television sound bites.”
What do you think – is Trump’s speaking style a vote for plain language? Please hit "reply" and let me know.
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