Tag Archives: plain english

How to become a better writer

I’ve recommended Doris and Bertie’s Good Copy Bad Copy blog before as a source of good ideas for writers. Their 50 super-quick business writing tips article begins with,

Doris and Bertie logo1. Each time you sit down to write, remind yourself of this sobering fact: “nobody has to read this”.

continues through

5. Don’t follow “we’re different because…” with clichés about “adding value” and “innovative solutions”.

and winds down with

48. Ruthlessly delete everything that’s not important to your reader (even if it’s important to you or the person who briefed you).

I agree with these tips. Although Doris and Bertie target a business audience, these suggestions could have been written by George Orwell or Winston Churchill, who spoke clearly to everyone. These masters expressed candor, rationality, and resolve, and sprinkled in just enough humor to keep us coming back for more.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Taking Back the English Language

ListenI listened to KERA’s Krys Boyd interview author Steven Pinker about one of my favorite topics: plain English. Mr. Pinker authored The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. He claims that education often interferes with a person’s clarity. He refers to this wordy English dialect as academese, which is similar to corporate hack boilerplate.

Do you speak English?I agree. Most academic papers are terribly written, as is the text in many corporate websites.

Both dialects employ the passive voice and zombie nouns: nouns created from verbs. For example, instead of appearing, there is an appearance. Instead of cancelling, there is a cancellation.

Mr. Pinker closes with the “prime directive” of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:

Omit needless words.

Albert Einstein liked simple language.

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

459px-Einstein_patentofficeIf you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

— Albert Einstein

Both aphorisms have been attributed to Dr. Einstein. I mentioned in Plain English that,

In my experience, the best scientists and engineers explain complex concepts by using simple words in simple sentences. Dolts, on the other hand, make everything sound complicated.

I’m glad that Dr. Einstein agreed. (After watching his video biography, I now think of him as “Uncle Albert”.)

3 Writing Evaluation Tools

I ran text samples through three on-line writing analysis tools that are recommended by Doris & Bertie’s Good Copy, Bad Copy blog. The WritersDiet Test returns the most useful results, together with customized suggestions to improve your writing. The other two tests report details such as sentence length and readability.

The tests confirmed my opinion: many corporate and academic documents are horrible! The tests judged my writing to be surprisingly good and at the reading level of a US high school senior. Still, there’s always room for improvement. I’d like to make my writing easier to read. I’ll begin submitting my prose to these tests. We’ll see if it improves.

I think that Doris and Bertie’s summary of these tests is spot-on. They’re on-line so there’s nothing to install. I thank Doris & Bertie for the links. The three tests are:

  1. The WritersDiet Test
  2. Gunning Fog Index
  3. Drivel Defence for Text

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Methodology == Method (usually)

I reluctantly listen to a jargon-filled podcast called Telecom Junkies. The episodes are loaded with trendy technical buzzwords but are mercifully short. Jargon ProhibitedDuring an episode titled A Prequel to the Great E911 Debate, Bill Svien from 911 ETC boasted that “we connect to the client using various different methods and methodologies to allow for a cost-effective solution”.

Mr. Svien unwittingly demonstrated that in this context, the words methodology and method are synonyms. I imagine that he used the word methodology because it sounds scientific. In fact, today’s entire telecom industry flagrantly misuses the word methodology.

My question: Before presenting their pitches, did these guys rehearse in front of anyone who could critique their presentations for clarity? All four presentations were loaded with catchphrases that struck me as comical, even though I understand the technology. I pity the uninitiated listener; laughter would be a natural response. These guys could be mistaken for stand-up comedians.

Come on, guys. Speak English. Read Orwell. Follow his advice.

George Orwell’s web content advice

Further reading:

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695