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“We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions,
pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” - William Zinsser

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Issue 26   April, 2015


Sue HornerDear Sue2,
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.
Sue's signature


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 ofHow to explain environmental issuesten 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.
 
PASSIVE ACTIVE
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
WORDY CONCISE
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”
 
LONG SHORT
Accelerate Speed up
Accomplish Reach, carry out, do
Approximately About
Commence Begin, start
Corporation Company
Executing the work Doing the work
Expedite Speed
Fundamental Basic, key
Integrate Build in
Leverage Use
Overarching Overall
Regulations Laws
Utilize, utilization Use, usage
Transparent Clear, open
 
4.  Avoid jargon           
“Translate business jargon into plain English.” – The Canadian Press Stylebook
JARGON PLAIN ENGLISH
Adversely impact on Hurt, set back, affect
Impacts (as a noun) Effects
Implement Introduce, use, launch
Mitigate Deal with, avoid, guard against
Parameters Guidelines
 
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.
Have you found a more concise way of saying many of the terms in sustainability reports? (This includes “sustainability” itself!) Do share. And hit "reply" to let me know if you need help editing your reports for readability.

Images: "Green Energy" by franky242 and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Sue by Chris Salvo, salvophoto.com.

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