Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Rediscovering Plain English



I watched Patrick Obahiagbon's Channels TV interview recently. My feelings ranged from amusement to irritation and then sincere pity for the poor man. He has single-handedly broken all key concepts behind communication – a shared understanding of a message between two or more people.

Communication cannot be said to have occurred until the receiver receives and accurately interprets your encoded message. In Patrick’s case, the receiver is left confused, disoriented and or amused.

I’ve read some brilliant write-ups that have made me really sad. Sad because I know the people who need the information the writers articulate so eloquently will never bother to read it. Why? The language.

As a writer, start with the end in mind. What's your objective for putting pen to paper? ‘How should you write to ensure your content is comprehensible by those who should read it?’

They say where in doubt proceed with caution. The same rule applies to writing. In this age of digital technology, anyone can stumble on your writing. Since you may not be able to define the typical consumer of your content, use plain English - decent enough not to come across as commonplace to the intellectual, but simple enough to be digested by the average reader.

Don’t say Peccadillo when you can say Sin. Don't use a sentence when a phrase will do. Don't use a phrase when one word is enough. Words are meant to convey a message, paint a picture; create a connection between the writer and the reader. Imagine listening to a song and pausing every 5 seconds to understand the composition; that process takes out the enjoyment you otherwise would have derived from the activity. The same can be said for writing populated with words that need interpretation before they can be understood.


If you write to influence, educate, push forward an argument, change paradigms or mindsets or even to entertain, what’s the point in putting so much effort and thought into a piece that will only get read by an insignificant fraction of people because you’re talking way above everyone else’s head?

©Naomi Lucas

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

True. But Mr Obahiagbon has become more of an entertainer than a communicator. I, for one, look forward to that entertainment every now and then :-).