Theory vs Experience. Again.

This post has appeared before. It’s a different set of students today. And a different university this time. But much remains the same… Many people believe you have to choose between experience and theory when you want to gain knowledge or skills. But the choice represents a false dichotomy. It’s on my mind today as I…

The (sub)genre of the executive summary

When a business professional needs to influence other people to do something not obviously beneficial to them, the individual often writes a persuasive document. That’s why we have proposals, business plans, recommendation reports, white papers, etc. Because such documents present complex information, they are usually lengthy. But readers are busy! So writers need to provide their audience with a way…

Feds make better grades in 2015

The Center for Plain Language recently released final grades for US federal agencies. After completing a rigorous evaluation process, they concluded that Participation by agencies in the Center for Plain Language Federal Plain Language Report Card reached an all-time high: 23 agencies submitted materials for review, including all 15 Cabinet-level departments. Compliance scores increased overall: Eight…

Reaching (and respecting) veterans with plain language

To honor our US veterans today, let me share an example of exemplary writing practice from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). A team working on a form wanted to use the question, “When were you last (gainfully) employed?” They felt that the term “gainfully employed” would gather more legally sufficient and accurate information than just…

Readers label you based on your style

I’m in Seattle at the Association for Business Communication conference. Erin Kane and I will present “Reader Perception of Workplace-Writer Attributes” this afternoon. (Our fellow researchers, Nicole Amare and Alan Manning couldn’t make the trip.) We had more than 600 working adults in the US tell us whether they preferred the more plain or less…

Does essay writing help you succeed as a writer at work?

Today’s post is in honor of the National Day on Writing. U.S. students spend years writing essays. They believe they know how to write. (And also often believe that writing is meaningless.) What they do not know is that different rhetorical contexts (different goals, audiences, content) give rise to different ways of organizing and presenting information in effective written messages.…

Plain language requires attention to the process

The first three parts of my series on defining plain language focused on the three aspects of the rhetorical triangle: (1) textual elements like style and organization, (2) reader outcomes like comprehension and usability, and (3) writer outcomes like organizational costs and benefits. To overcome the limitations of any one of those aspects when considered alone,…