Brevity is good. We should aim to get our message across in the least number of words we can. Sometimes, though, mere words are not enough. Let me explain…
It’s often said that a picture paints a thousand words. Graphical explanations can sometimes work wonders in conveying ideas, achieving in one image what it might have taken many words to do. The more innovative and laterally-thinking of those who work in the digital world have realized this, and they combine words and pictures in an extremely effective way. For an example of how it can work, look at this YouTube video, which explains how new technology will change the mechanics of government services. It was made by an old mate of mine, in between bouts of ‘man vs liquidiser’ (see my earlier post, ‘It’s Very Nice But What’s It For?”) and it puts across some complicated stuff in an engaging and easy to understand way http://bit.ly/1ar0Qst .
This form of communication is growing in popularity and the internet is full of home-produced videos that cover a wealth of topics in only sixty seconds. It’s an art form and the best ones are almost video haikus. I feel inspired to have a go at it myself. Stand by…
…as David Bowie memorably asked earlier in 2013. Well, speaking for this particular site, my rather meagre output of 22 posts over as many months has been viewed in a total of 43 countries (although one of them, bizarrely, is the Isle of Man) and has generated three leads for either potential or actual work. And writing the posts has kept me out of trouble for a few hours too. Not a bad result. Happy New Year.
This short entry returns to the theme of cooking – an area in which I claim no expertise but a limited amount of experience.
This morning I found a thought provoking recipe for making plum jam that I really liked. It wasn’t overly prescriptive and let you find your own way to do things. For instance, it said, “Crack open half of the plum stones and get the kernels out.” Great! Plain writing that made sense.
Better still, it let me find my own way of doing things. The end effect was quite clear – I was to get the kernels out of the plum stones – and the method to be used was up to me. So I used a pair of fairly heavy duty pliers (the sort with a wire-cutting bit included in the jaws) and in very little time I had a fine heap of kernels and a mass of cracked plum stones for the compost heap.
And here’s the thing. People enjoy being given the freedom to find their own ways of doing things. Tell them what you want and let them get on with it – and the more clearly you can tell them, the less chance they have of getting it wrong. The jam turned out fine, too.
At the risk of implying that I have nothing to do all day but surf the internet, I want to point you to another perceptive and helpful article about the importance of language. This one is written by the Chief Exec of Certitude, a group of personal support and social care providers, Aisling Duffy.
Rather than summarize her excellent words I’ll leave you to read it for yourself. Here’s the link. It’s good to find like-minded people; all that remains is to work out whether it’s a case of great minds thinking alike, or fools seldom differing. Over to you on that one…
I have a new fellow traveller who has raised the importance of using the right language to a corporate level. She sums up one of the key issues really well, saying “…subjective language suggests bias, or an agenda.” This is true whether you’re delivering considered judgements in the field of risk analysis or offering advice on how to write clearly.
I can do no better for those who work in the field of risk analysis – or, indeed anyone else interested in achieving clarity – than to point them to this link where they can read the guidance for themselves.
Thank you, Kirsten Parker, And I hope you don’t mind me drawing on your expertise like this…!
This article jumped out at me from the pages of the Saturday Guardian.
It’s a cautionary tale that illustrates the dangers of tampering with punctuation if you don’t fully understand what you’re fiddling with.
But it’s cheering to see that (almost) everyone involved seems to agree that the aim of punctuation is to make meaning clearer.
In 2011 I was invited to lay a wreath at the memorial in Australia to the 2,400 soldiers who died on the Sandakan Death March in the Second World War. I was also asked to speak and deliver a short, appropriate reflection. After the ceremony, the Australian Chief of Army very kindly put a copy of my words on the Australian Army website, but that entry is now gone (apart from a dead link on the Slovenian version of Facebook. Make of that what you will). All that remains is an inexplicable but welcome entry that someone kindly placed on slideshare.net.
I think it sounds better than it reads, if you see what I mean. This is interesting because it shows that our speech-writing style needs to be different from our normal written style. The same applies within our written work; our Tweets are generally a different style from our Yammers, and our blogs are different yet again. Our audience – and the way we try to reach them – should dictate how we write and it’s important to get the appropriate style. There’s clearly quite a lot hanging on this and it’s worth thinking about, because we need to get it right.