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The Basics of Plain Language. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the principles of plain language. Purpose.

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Presentation on theme: "The Basics of Plain Language. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the principles of plain language. Purpose."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Basics of Plain Language

2 The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the principles of plain language. Purpose

3 1.What Is Plain Language? 2.Know Your Reader 3.Reading Skills 4.Matching Texts with Reading Skills Contents

4 Plain language is language that is easy for the audience to understand. 1.What is Plain Language?

5 Plain-Language Samples Before: A thorough inspection of your forest home or summer cottage and the surrounding property for obvious fire hazards is the first step in fire protection. After: You can protect your forest home or summer cottage by first inspecting your land and building for fire hazards. Before: Prior to completing the application, the applicants should determine if the proposed corporate name is available. After: Before you complete the application, find out if another company is using the name you have chosen.

6 What happens when the text is too difficult? Readers feel frustrated. Readers feel frustrated. Most often, they stop reading. Most often, they stop reading. They may seek help or call support. They may seek help or call support. They often go to some other task. They often go to some other task. All of this costs you money. All of this costs you money.

7 The Costs of Poor Language If your organization is not using plain language, you are not operating effectively. You are wasting money.

8 Plain language results in greater: Comprehension Retention Reading Speed Perseverance Plain-Language Benefits for the Reader

9 Increased audience size. Increased audience size. Greater customer satisfaction. Greater customer satisfaction. Reduced costs of training, document production, and support. Reduced costs of training, document production, and support. All of which makes you money. All of which makes you money. Plain-Language Cost Benefits

10 The ease of reading depends on two sources, the text and the reader. 2. Know Your Reader

11 1.Prior Knowledge 2.Interest 3.Motivation 4.Literacy (reading skill) Features of the Reader

12 Create and sustain interest by appealing to what the reader already knows. Lead the reader from the known to the unknown, from problems to solutions. Make Use of Prior Knowledge

13 Study and use the design of materials familiar to your audience. Text Design

14 Use a tone and approach appropriate for the purpose and the audience. Tone and Approach

15 is especially important for: 1.Younger readers 2.Adults of lower reading skills 3.Those unfamiliar with the subject Clear Organization

16 Literacy surveys have shown that the average reader in the U.S. is an adult of limited reading ability. 3. Reading Skills

17 National Adult Literacy Survey Level 3

18 Canadian Survey Results

19 Adults have the same reading difficulties as children of the same reading level. Adult Reading Difficulties

20 Effects of Low Literacy Those with low reading levels die earlier, spend more time in hospitals and jails, and have lower earning levels. Their children are less likely to attend college.

21 Literacy and Health Problems caused by low reading ability add an additional $73 billion yearly to health-care costs. Good readers take more responsibility for their own health.

22 Literacy and Power Knowledge is key to establishing and maintaining power relationships. Furthermore, literacy is the key to knowledge. Highly literate persons possess large bodies of knowledge and information- processing skills.

23 Other Literacy Facts Large numbers graduate from high school reading at the 8 th - grade level. A quarter of the population does not graduate from high school. Large numbers graduate from high school reading at the 8 th - grade level. A quarter of the population does not graduate from high school. The average adult in the U.S. reads at the 7 th -grade level. The average adult in the U.S. reads at the 7 th -grade level. The most popular books and publications are written at the 7 th -grade level. The most popular books and publications are written at the 7 th -grade level.

24 John Grisham Tom Clancy Michael Crichton Clive Cussler Mary Renault Frank McCourt Arthur Golden Abraham Lincoln All wrote at the 7 th -grade level Popular Writers

25 Romance Novels 1.Romance fiction generated $1.63 billion in sales in There were 2,169 romance titles released in Romance fiction comprises 18% of all books sold (not including children’s books). 4.Romance fiction comprises 53.3% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America. 5.Romance fiction comprises 34.6% of all popular fiction sold.

26 Readability of Popular Periodicals PeriodicalGrade Level% of Readers Boston Globe1218% Los Angeles Times1218% Atlantic Monthly1120% Atlanta Constitution1120% Cleveland Plain Dealer1120% San Jose Mercury News 1120% New Yorker1025% New York Times1025% Washington Post1025% USA Today1025% Harpers935% Time935% Reader's Digest935%

27 Mark Twain “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; and don’t let the fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” — Mark Twain, in a letter to a 12- year-old boy.

28 "Now," says Ben Rogers, "what's the line of business of this Gang?" "Nothing only robbery and murder," Tom said. "But who are we going to rob? -- houses, or cattle, or -- " "Stuff! Stealing cattle and such things ain't robbery; it's burglary," says Tom Sawyer. "We ain't burglars. That ain't no sort of style. We are highwaymen. We stop stages and carriages on the road, with masks on, and kill the people and take their watches and money." "Must we always kill the people?" "Oh, certainly. It's best. Some authorities think different, but mostly it's considered best to kill them -- except some that you bring to the cave here, and keep them till they're ransomed." "Ransomed? What's that?" “I don't know. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do." Huckleberry Finn

29 Literacy Changes Lives

30 The purpose of Plain Language is to close the literacy gap between the reading level of the text and the reading ability of the audience. 4.Matching Texts

31 The feature of text that makes it easy to read is called readability. Readability

32 Easier text can compensate for lower levels of prior knowledge, reading skill, interest, and motivation.Compensation

33 Audience Size and Text Difficulty

34 Level of Education and Average Reading Ability Some high school High school graduate College graduate Professional 5 th grade 9 th grade 12 th grade 16 th grade

35 The readability formulas predict the level of reading skill required to read a text. Readability Formulas

36 The popular readability formulas are 80 percent accurate. They give a good rough estimate of the difficulty of a text. Formula Accuracy

37 Rudolf Flesch Rudolf Flesch caused a revolution in journalism and business writing in 1948 with his book The Art of Plain Talk and his Reading Ease readability formula.

38 Flesch Publication Scores

39 Microsoft Problems The Microsoft Word Flesch- Kincaid grade level is defective. It only goes to the 12 th Grade.

40 Dale-Chall Formula 1948 Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall created most accurate of all formulas. To measure word difficulty, it counts the words not on a list of 3,000 words familiar to 80% of fourth graders. Edgar Dale Jeanne Chall

41 Robert Gunning’s Fog Formula Count 100 words Grade Level =.4 X (average sentence length + hard words) Where: Hard words = number of words of more than two syllables Robert Gunning

42 Fry Readability Graph Ed Fry

43 The readability formulas have provided great benefits to readers worldwide in many languages. Formula Benefits

44 Don’t Write to the Formula! The word-and-sentence variables are tightly related to other factors of style, organization, tone, approach, and design.

45 Review I. What is plain language? Plain Language is easy for the audience to understand.

46 Review II. Know Your Reader Plain Language matches the prior knowledge, interest, motivation and reading skill of the audience.

47 Review III. Reading Skills The average reader in the U. S. is an adult of limited reading ability. The average adult reads at the 7 th -grade level.

48 Review IV. Matching Texts The purpose of plain language is to reduce the gap between the reading skills of the audience and the reading level of the text.

49 Back to Basics

50 “An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.” —William Shakespeare

51 Web Resources

52 126 E. 18th St. #C204 Costa Mesa, CA For more information:


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