My newsfeed often identifies stories with 'Plain Language' in the title. I don't know how the author got to that claim, but it is usually obvious they have tried to take a complex topic and make it simpler. However, plain language is a process that involves steps, reader feedback, visual design standards and writing guidelines. One of today's toughest topics to explain clearly is climate change—now called climate crisis.
Climate crisis in plain language
Lexicology recently posted a piece with the title Climate change - a plain language guide for business. It was well organized. It may have met its primary audience's needs. However, jargon clouded the issue. Terms like 'global stocktake' (which showed up as a spelling error for me), 'ratchet mechanism', 'material fiscal risks', 'acute catastrophic' and 'gradual onset' detracted from the message. I have a business. I am concerned. But, the jargon didn't persuade me to read on or take action.
The science of it all in plain language
Scientific America published an article that is clear, well-organized, concise and targeted. Scientists need to communicate their findings in plain language so planners can look ahead, not use old standards. It was a good read. How to Talk Global Warming in Plain English, even though it is from 2016, shows how applying plain language guidelines can help get the message across.
From climate change to climate crisis
The UK's Guardian newspaper lead the way in changing the lexicon of climate reporting. Their readers' editor highlighted the publishers' new initiative by defining the words and phrases they would now use. For example, global warming will now be global heating, as is it a more accurate description. The article highlights climate change's need for a "robust new language to describe it". I like the sections, definitions and explanations designed to answer questions and feedback the public gave them. The involvement of their audience in crafting a response is a key component of the plain language process.
The next time you craft a blog, opinion piece, organizational directive, why not search the Internet for the topic adding the words 'plain language'. I hope you are pleasantly surprised.
Kate Harrison Whiteside has over 25 years experience in plain language, writing and editing, training and consulting.