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Friday, November 9, 2012

“Plain Language” Is More Than Words | Candi Harrison, Candi on Content

Expanding on the headline to her blog article, Harrison writes:
“Plain” means information you can find, understand, and use quickly and easily. So, in addition to choosing the right words, how the information is organized and presented is critical to making content “plain.”
Harrison continues by describing criteria she and other judges have used to evaluate websites for plain-language competitions in the United States and New Zealand. I think most of the criteria also apply to other types of documents.

Here are the eight assessment factors with some sample questions from Harrison's article:
  1. Purpose – ... Is the purpose of each page you review clear, without relying on the reader having visited other pages on the site? ...
  2. Organization – Is content organized in categories that would make sense to typical customers? ...  Does content anticipate audience wants and needs? ...
  3. Writing – Are sentences and paragraphs short and to the point? ... Do they use words that the typical audience will know and understand the first time they read them? ...
  4. Design – ... Is the most important information placed where readers look first? Does the site use headers and sub-headers, bullets and numbers, color to highlight important information, and other design devices to make skimming easy? ...
  5. Graphics and links – Do graphics add value to the site by adding or clarifying important information – no gratuitous graphics? ...
  6. Accessibility – Does the site use best practices to help people who are visually impaired (for example, dark fonts on light backgrounds, links describe target content)? ...
  7. Performance measures – ...  Is the organization tracking measures to make sure customers can find and use what they want as fast and effectively as possible?
  8. Overall assessment – Is this site easy to use? ...
For other criteria for evaluating the readability of documents, see the Testing for Clarity section at Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. Other steps described in my writing guide:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design.
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Harrison's article is featured today, Nov. 9, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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