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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Writing Clearly and Simply | WebAIM

This excellent resource is on a website for "expanding the web's potential for people with disabilities." WebAIM is an acronym for Web Accessibility in Mind.

But I think most of its advice is valuable and useful for communicating effectively with all audiences in all forms of media. Those audiences include people with limited English proficiency. 

The article begins by answering this question:
Is it Possible to Write "Clearly and Simply"?
The task of writing clearly and simply has never been either clear or simple. In fact, it can be one of the most difficult of all writing tasks. Clear and simple writing is an art to which many aspire and few achieve. Even so, the understandability of web content depends upon clear and simple writing. Unclear or confusing writing is an accessibility barrier to all readers, but can be especially difficult for people with reading disorders or cognitive disabilities.
Its answer to that question describes how "Language and cultural differences matter" and how "Cognitive abilities matter."

But the article then gets to the meat of the message by discussing 20 General Guidelines:
The guidelines presented here are not a complete list, nor do they apply to every situation, but they are a good starting point. Writers who take these guidelines seriously are more likely to write clearly and simply.
The article also includes discussion of these topics:
  • Additional Considerations for Users with Reading Disorders and Cognitive Disabilities
  • How Can Writers Know if They Have Achieved Clarity and Simplicity?
And it ends with this Summary:
It is not easy to write clearly and simply, but it is important to try. Users are more likely to understand your writing if you take the time to organize your thoughts and write them in the clearest, simplest form possible, taking into account your audience. To maximize understandability for people with cognitive disabilities, limit the text, add appropriate illustrations, and avoid indirect or implied meanings (such as sarcasm or parody). In the end, nearly everyone benefits from clarity and simplicity.
WebAIM's article is featured today, Dec. 5, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For more information and advice on clear, concise writing, visit these two sties of mine:

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