Should we change the name plain language to accessible language?
Plain language has always been about readers, users, viewers and listeners accessing information and acting on it. So has the term 'plain language' lost its impact? Do we need to progress to accessible language? Or, clear language? These and other topics surrounding the application of plain language will be debated, options explored and ideas reformed at the PLAIN 2013 Conference
in Vancouver, Oct 10-13.
Plain language has been slowly working its way into government, legal, education, health and other fields for several decades. But, it really gets attention when a city or province or country tackles this mammoth task. Calgary, Alberta is a recent example.
It started with Ald. Druh Farrell proposing the city re-vive its plain language policy and live by it (July 2011). The mayor supported and staff started out on the plain language journey - with promotions, training and projects. This is how it is supposed to happen. One step at a time. And, the people who have to put the plan into practice are the ones who need the 'clearest' understanding about the role 'accessibility' plays in the process. This action is getting a lot of media attention - which is good, regardless of their take on it. Talking about plain language is a huge part of getting a policy, plan or project in motion. (Check out Key Advice Facebook
Page for key links in this discussion).
This Plain 2013 conference
blog post highlights how it is exploring the concept and practice of accessibility in everything from its plenary panel to World Cafe round robin sessions. And, it will be discussed, debated and re-defined by everyone there. From these interactions, plain language and accessibility will be clarified and perhaps a new 'name' for this important practice will be formed.
However, I don't think the name is as important as the practice. So call it what you will - just ensure 'accessibility' is at the heart of everything you do. And, get it integrated into your organization's strategy.
Join in. Register for the Conference and find out first-hand how integrating accessible language can help you, your organization and your clients.
This is the time for innovation. As demand rises for skills, government funding shrinks and talent enters today's workforce, old models of workplace learning need to be replaced. But, one thing that needs to stay is a focus on strong communications - and that means literacy, essential skills and plain language need to play on the same team.
These three have been in the same arena for some time. But, now they must be given equal opportunity to be integrated into learning - and create a strong based for learner-centred training from the beginning.
NALD's recent feature
- 'Thinking about the Embedding of Essential Skills - Especially for 21st Century Learners', by Pat Salt, a learning support strategist with PLS Consulting in Calgary, delves into the 'new approach' needed. Her approach was explored at a recent pan-territorial forum, Made in the North.The Environmental Research Web site reports on how plain language was used in a poll to help clarify the raging debate about climate change. The Vision Prize poll of earth and climate scientists asks straightforward questions. The success has been measurable, and they are extending the survey to more participants. It shows a commitment to research using plain language to help clear the air around a very divisive topic.Despite the arrival of March 1 - and World Book Day - the UK's Literacy Trust found a quarter of adults hadn't read a book in the last six months. One answer: Quick Reads released a number of titles costing 1 pound each. It may not be the answer, but it is an answer.
These examples show responses to critical issues - with the audience's needs up front -are demonstrating strength of a solution shared by literacy, essential skills and plain language.
The next step must be the integration of these three keys - literacy, essential skills and plain language - into learning success at every step of the planning process.
Find out more at the PLAIN2013.org Conference
plenary session on integrating plain language.
Is database fear gripping you? For many, databases present a formidable challenge. But the benefits can far out-weight the risks. Listen to Margaret Sutherland, Program Manager for Decoda Literacy Solutions, discuss why she met the database challenge head-on, and what it's meant to her organization and clients.
"They are vital to being able to analyze your data and use it in a way that's effective," said Margaret.
KeyQ1: How did you get involved in the Decoda database project?
KeyQ2: What was the most important thing you learned?
KeyQ3: What advice do you have for anyone starting up a database project?
Database benefits for non-profits and businesses are similar – they create the tools to track developments, show progress and report it.
Listen to find out more. Decoda Literacy Solutions
KeyQ3 - 3 Questions: 3 minutes. Interviews to inspire.
The State of the Literacy and Essential Skills Field Pan- Canadian Report
is the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network's
latest 'environmental scan' of Canada's literacy and essential skills status. It's a broad view of where we are and plain language does get a mention. But, only a small one. How can plain language play a bigger role?
The report highlights youth, seniors, immigrants and aboriginals as key players in the future of our growth (GDP) and economic development as a nation. One thing many of these key sector members share is language skill diversity. Like all workers, skill development is the glue that will strengthen their roles in the workplace, and hold our economy together as we face future challenges. But, for people with literacy or essential skill challenges, acquiring, using and enhancing skills is directly linked to comprehension. Plain language is the key to ensuring training - particularly materials - meet their needs.
Yet, still the new kid on the block, plain language's mention comes as a report recommendation for governments:
"1. Implement a plain language policy for all print materials in all languages." Page 70.
This is just the tip of the plain language discussion iceberg. We need to strengthen our ties with literacy and essential skills fields. We need plain language to be a key player, not just a mention, in studies. Now is the time.
Come to PLAIN 2013 Conference
in Vancouver, Oct 10 -13. An exciting panel discussion is planned with representatives from literacy, essential skills, training and plain language fields. The panel will take the pulse of this key topic and see if there is a future for a healthy relationship.
Participation is the key trend theme for 2013 according to trendwatching.com
. People - clients, consumers, colleagues - are now pro-active in social media, technology and want to be leaders, not followers. Businesses of all sizes need to integrate inclusion into their marketing strategies. Here are some things to consider.
People are taking control. Trendwatching calls them 'custowners' and 'presumers'. This growing segment wants to be at the front of the pack. Do you have a place for them?
If you are in the global marketplace, watch out. The children of the emerging markets are growing up - and catering to their own needs (good, services). Is this a boost or a backlash to your bottom line?
The mobile market is going myopic. 'Mobilists' want to use their phones for everything. And they want it now. But data protection issues will continue to make headlines. How do you meet both scenarios?
Branding together - producers and consumers - will go on a new, strengthened journey of sustainability. And transparency is going to be the top corporate goal. Find out what your public want.
Participation is expanding, exploding and exploring new avenues. Find out which trends will be most important for you to research, adapt to and show leadership in. Trendwatching.com's
Top 10 Trends for 2013.
print and online
A great example of plain web design using strong graphic
links, consistent colour and simple text.
Too often content comes at the bottom of the communication or website planning list. In fact, over half of website launches are delayed due to content issues coming up at the end of the process, instead of at the beginning. And, a lot of time is wasted re-writing print content, because defining the 'who' and asking for audience input was left out or left too late. At the Literacy and Learning Symposium 2012, Terri Peters and I presented "The Power of Plain Language – telling the story straight". She dealt with the print side, and, I looked at plain language website tips. Here are some key points we shared.
Always start with the 5 Ws: who, why, what, where, when. Spend time carefully, and deeply analyzing your audience (who) and purpose (why). All content decisions should be made based on these two key points.
Website audiences can be categorized as user who are skimmers - on a mission to find something, fast. Website users scan in an F pattern, seeking headings, subheadings and links. Readers scan also. Are you giving your readers and visitors what they want? The best way is to ask and involve them. See the links below for some tips.
Plain language is all about accessibility. Print design is about being reader-friendly. And websites are all about usability. Putting print and web design together with plain language can deliver powerful results.
Today's audiences are media savvy. They want visual and audio options, as well as text. Give them video, podcasts, galleries. Satisfy their hunger. But, don't over do it. The easyread.drugabuse.gov
site is a great example of the blending of written and visual elements. And, in print - use simple and realistic graphics, supported by a readable font, and a design that uses lots of white space.
With the help of an experienced assessor, carry out usability testing before you go live or go to print. You'll be glad you did.
Put your readers first; put content at the beginning the communications plan; and follow plain language guidelines from start to finish. The results will be satisfying – for you and your users.
Here are more helpful links:Power of Plain Language Bibliography Usability testing sites:www.Online-utility.org
read-able.com (web content)
readabliity-score.com Sample plain language websites
If this looks like the kind of presentation you'd like for your organization, please contact me, Kate Harrison Whiteside firstname.lastname@example.org
or Terri Peters, TLP Training at, email@example.com
Mark Your Calendars for Plain Language Association International's PLAIN2013 Conference in Vancouver - Oct 10-13, 2013. Celebrate with us...Keep searching for PLAIN2013. The website is coming soon.
In the last week I have had the brilliant opportunity to participate in two community awareness and fundraising events. One was local to BC, the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL)
and Black Press Reach-A-Reader Day literacy campaign. The other was International Plain Language Day Oct 13, iplday.org
, a virtual, global celebration. They may seem worlds apart - but really they are very close in many ways - and we can all learn from them.
CBAL's local literacy awareness and fundraising campaign involved partnerships, promotions, and people - volunteering time to shout about it on street corners in their towns. They raised funds that stay in their communities - by taking donations and handing out local newspapers. It was energizing to see the support live. And, the results will be felt in these communities as the funds stay with them to support local programs.International Plain Language Day, Oct 13
celebrations involved the global community - Canada, US, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, and more - supporting this cause with local meetings; a virtual conference using YouTube, SlideShare, their website
; and, social media - LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Donated presentations made up the content, volunteers promoted it, and hundreds watched, listened, posted and tweeted about plain language. It was motivating to be part of it. And, the results wil be felt far and wide, as the plain language global community opens its doors and invites everyone in.
These two events may seem totally unrelated - but they both had common themes: increasing people's access to and understanding of - education opportunities; health and legal information and services; workplace training and learning opportunities; community support and participation. They were both led by passionate professionals and supported by committed volunteers - and followed on an idea someone felt was important. There is a lot of powerful energy that comes from these types of events. Harness it, learn from it, and put it to work in your community.
Launching a plain language initiative in most organizations means a major shift in policies, procedures and culture. And, like any shift, it needs a strong coach, backed by a committed team, and fans. It is best to start out in the little leagues and work your way up to the majors. With International Plain Language Day Oct 13
just over two weeks away - why not use it to get you started.
Training is a big part of developing any skill. See if you can get a plain language training session in your organization. PLAIN
(Plain Language Association INternational) has a members database to help you find an expert in your area. If one isn't nearby, many are ready to be brought in by video conferencing technology. It could be the way to get launched.
The best teams have the best coaches. If you don't see yourself in the role of plain language champion - find one. They should have some knowledge of plain language, be respected, work well as a leader, have good project management skills - and believe in plain language. If you need help getting them on track - watch the IPLDay promo videos on YouTube
. Then come back to the IPLDay channels on YouTube and SlideShare
on IPLDay Oct 13 for more presentations. You could use these as part of your recruitment campaign to get a cross-representation of members on your team.
Once your team is set up and has had some training - pick a project. Keep it simple to start. A form. A letter. A company-wide document. It is worth investing in a trainer - a plain language professional - to walk you through the first challenge. Think of it as training the trainer. You can learn a lot - and with expert guidance - achieve success. It's a win-win for everyone.
It's a big step and a big commitment - but it can net big results. Plain language saves time and money - and leads to happy clients. It can make your organization a winner - move you to the top of the standings - make you stand out fHere are some helpful links. Let us know how it goes.IPLDAY.org
- Clear legal language and practices
Plain or clear communications is often focused on the content - but design plays a huge part. In London this week, at the Design Festival
, Siegal + Gale hosted a discussion on the power of simple designs.
The Wallace and Gromit creative director, a University of Reading professor, a London tailor and British Library entrepreneur-in-residence all gave their reasons for backing simplicity in design.
So, what does this mean for the plain language communicator on the street?Let clear design help you stand out.
Siegal + Gale's president of EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Philip Davies called simplicity 'a powerful tool' that gives organizations the competitive edge.
The panel discussed simplicity vs simplistic - a debate that echoes plain language vs clear communications discussions that took place at the PLAIN
conference in Stockholm in 2011. Watch the video
The next time you do a project, find a designer with a plain language or clear design portfolio. They exist. My experience with them in print and on website projects has been enlightening.
Watch the International Plain Language Day Oct 13 video
or start a local celebration event.
Plain language hit a nerve with me 20 years ago. It just made sense - clear language, client-oriented, simply designed communications. It appealed to the journalist, trainer and business sides of my persons. Now 20 years on - there is even more to be passionate about.
Plans are well underway for the second International Plain Language Day October 13
. This year's celebration is a virtual conference of films on the IPLD YouTube
channel and presentations on SlideShare
. They will provide advice on, inspiration for and insights into how to make plain language a top organizational goal. But, why wait?
Practitioners and research can vouch for reductions in time, costs and volume of communications by applying plain language guidelines. But, most importantly, a commitment to plain language is a commitment to client relations. Let it make you stand out from the crowd.
Check out Calgary Emergency Management's plain language Household Emergency Action Plan
document which was created for citizens from a variety of cultures, with different education levels and multiple languages. As Cara Katterhagen, Communication Strategist for CEM, said during a video interview (that will be shown on IPLDay 2012): "We are all fired up about plain language." They saw the value of plain language and safety. The whole city is looking at a plain language policy.
But it's not just cities and governments - everyone can take a role. It starts with voicing an interest in plain language and getting your organization talking about it. Then, choose a team - with cross-organization representation - and a pilot project to build interest, excitement and commitment. Add in a plain language plan, training and promotions. Plain language consultants are available to help out. Visit PLAIN
(Plain Language Association INternational) to find out more about what is happening and get access to members' sites.
Put celebrating IPLDay on your calendar. It can be the starting point of your campaign for plain language.
Remember: "Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans."Peter F. Drucker
(1909-2005) American writer and management consultant.
Find out more on iplday.org
Support IPLDay October 13