To do great writing, read great writing. Here’s the great writing I’ve been reading this week:
Keep it simple stupid – I’d never heard of the Center for Plain Language until yesterday when I heard American Public Media’s Marketplace reporter Kai Ryssdal interviewing its director, Annetta Cheek. In the interview, a transcript of which you can read here, Cheek explains how she and a group of federal government employees formed the nonprofit after becoming frustrated with how poorly government agencies and businesses communicated with their constituents. As a follow up, Marketplace put up this list of common business jargon and what it really means. Here are a few examples, with the center’s suggestions for clearer alternatives:
- Instead of “economically marginalized” use “poor.”
- Instead of “negative economic growth” use “recession.”
- Instead of “in the event of” use “if.”
- Instead of “We obtain information that causes us to believe that” use “We find that…”
Sadly, the problem with obtuse writing isn’t limited to government officials and corporate executives. I see it on a regular basis in magazines and newspapers as well as in stories I edit. For business and technology reporters particularly, it’s an easy trap to fall into because industries have their own jargon-filled vocabularies and sources use it in interviews. But our job as writers is to translate the jargon into plain English. Keeping it simple and readers will thank you for it.
AP style or SEO? – Speaking of language, the Associated Press’ announcement that it’s switching from “Web site” to “website” in its AP Stylebook sparked an interesting online debate (at least interesting to word nerds like me) about what’s more important for journalists to know today, AP style or SEO. Anybody who ever graduated from j-school got AP style drilled into them. But is it still relevant today when content lives and dies by whether it’s searchable by Google? Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles takes the position that SEO trumps AP style. Be sure to click over to his post because he’s included links to a number of excellent resources to help journalists understand SEO.