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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Plain English About Ounces, Pounds, Dollars and Sense | David Katz, M.D., Huff Post, Healthy Living

"Plain English" in the headline of this article caught my attention. But, ironically, I almost stopped reading the article after the first couple of paragraphs because I figured it really isn't about methods or values of writing in plain English. Instead, I figured, the writer (or his headline-writing editor) was implying only that the article itself is written in plain English.

But I continued reading it anyway, partially because the topic of the article interested me. And by the end I realized that the article is indeed about writing (and reading) -- or literacy in the vocabulary of health and medicine. Or, at least, it's about providing clear, useful information in certain matters of personal health, such as the causes of obesity and ways to prevent it (the medical focus of the article).

I used the word "ironically" above for several reasons; first because an article headlined with "plain English" wasn't (apparently) about plain English; second, because it actually is about plain English (or clear, concise writing); and, unfortunately, because the article misses a key principle of plain English.

That principle of plain English (aka plain language) is that the main point or points of article or document are made clear to the reader at or near the beginning. That's done so the reader knows right away if he or she should take the time and energy to read the article/document. Will it meet their needs?

This article began with defining the problem (certainly an important point that needs to be clear right from the beginning). But it then discusses ways to treat the problem -- not once mentioning anything about providing information (clear or not) to patients until the 10th paragraph.

To aid readers in comprehending the article -- and capturing their attention adequately in the first place -- the article should have highlighted the point of health literacy within the first couple of paragraphs. The reader would then know more information on that solution is coming.
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This article is featured today (July 21) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Writing tab above and by free email subscription. 

For more information on plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. There you can learn how to improve your writing skills by using plain-English techniques:

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