This week I took a course in Plain Language at the Disability Empowerment Center in Phoenix, and learned about the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Plain English/Language/Writing isn’t about “dumbing down,” but rather about clear communication. Among others, those of us who write website content and direct mail copy understand writing to a specific audience, and the new Plain Writing Act is focusing on that.
The two day course I took, sponsored by The Arizona Center for Disability Law, was one of the finest seminars I’ve ever attended. Never did Audrey Riffenburgh speak down to us, and it would have been easy. But by focusing on the viewer/reader constantly, we learned how to analyze writing and formatting, what to avoid and what to use, and how to analyze and create documents that clearly state their purpose for the intended cultural/linguistic audience. We learned how to analyze and re-shape forms, brochures, papers, etc. into documents that make more sense to the reader.
But it’s much more. Plain Language is finally emerging as a method to let specific groups of people read something they understand according to their particular culture. We learned how to identify the literacy skills of adults in the U.S., and how to define the “mismatch” between consumer literacy skills and the literacy demands of most communications for the public.
And it’s still much more than I can describe. I see this as extremely valuable for agencies and businesses that can identify their “target readers.” The result, at every level, is that time is saved. For everyone. And time is money. Agencies and businesses “get” that.
Incidentally, this was just the basic workshop. There is more, and I hope to take advanced courses so I can be of more value to the nonprofit agencies for which I work. Clearly, my mind is spinning with what I’ve learned, and how to be more specific/efficient/effective in my work with every client I have.