Issue 26 April, 2015
When your writing is easy to read, it’s easier to understand. This issue of Wordnerdery looks at ways to make environmental/ sustainability reporting less jargony and easier to read.
How sustainable is your language?
This time of year, corporate sustainability reports bloom like algae in a lake.
These reports show the efforts a company makes to do the right things for the environment and the community. But the language that describes what they do is often thick with jargon. And there’s no getting around multi-syllable words like “sustainable” and “environment.” It can make for a dense, hard-to-understand document.
Here are four ways to explain a complex topic like sustainability so readers will understand (with some recent examples I've found):
1. Use the active voice
“When possible, use the direct and more vigorous active voice.” - The Canadian Writer’s Handbook.
|Complaints should be submitted||Submit complaints|
|Documentation was provided||We reported|
|It was decided||(Name) decided|
|Oversight is provided||(Name) oversees|
2. Write short and cut out unnecessary words
“Omit needless words.” – Strunk & White, The Elements of Style
|At this point in time||Now|
|Due to the fact that||Because|
|Is in compliance with||Complies with, meets|
|The movement of||Moving|
3. Use short, familiar words (average five characters)
“When there is a choice of words, prefer the short to the long, the familiar to the unfamiliar.” - The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide, which includes a helpful section on recommended “plain words”
|Accomplish||Reach, carry out, do|
|Executing the work||Doing the work|
|Utilize, utilization||Use, usage|
4. Avoid jargon
“Translate business jargon into plain English.” – The Canadian Press Stylebook
|Adversely impact on||Hurt, set back, affect|
|Impacts (as a noun)||Effects|
|Implement||Introduce, use, launch|
|Mitigate||Deal with, avoid, guard against|
You can also make these reports easier to read by:
- Writing to the reader (“you”)
- Breaking long, complicated sentences into shorter ones (an average 14 words or fewer)
- Breaking paragraphs into fewer sentences (averaging just two or three)
- Using bullet points.
Images: "Green Energy" by franky242 and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Sue by Chris Salvo, salvophoto.com.