The beauty of clear and plain language

I have said before, that for me language is merely a tool for communication. Switching between many languages daily, I have accepted that they are a means to get my thoughts across without worrying excessively about minor grammar mistakes. As with most of my colleagues I am speaking in a language not our own, I have also worked on finding a language style which can be understood by everybody. Even though I usually get praise for my language knowledge when using highly specific words, this doesn’t help with communication. After all, if only the English-mother-tongue colleagues understand what I am asking for, I won’t be able to get across my message.

I am a friend of extensive and detailed explanations, at best in written form so people can get back to it if there are still questions after the initial explanation session. But I have learned that these explanations have to be in plain and simple language. Not because I am underestimating my co-workers, but because I want them to focus their efforts on their work. Not on trying to understand the explanation paper. Plain language, clear explanations, and some advise on what the information can be used for is thus the best way to get the idea through and get the action done as well. If you can then link it to a problem or situation which is being discussed at the very moment, you can make a difference. Just look at the response scientists received, when they included unambigious policy recommendations into their paper about mountaintop removal mining.

Learning from their experience, when preparing written information, keep in mind the following characteristics

  • Use simple language to make sure there are no misunderstandings. If people have to take out the dictionnaire to understand your test, you have lost them.
  • If the text is more than 1 page, include an executive summary. This will speed up the approval progress as your boss possibly won’t have the time to read through everything.
  • Include a section about “what to do with this information” to make sure the information is used.
  • Last but not least: make sure the information is used by linking it to important current events, using them as a handout for a meeting, or going through them with your team.

Store all those documentations in one place and make sure to review them periodically. They might come in handy if you apply for funding, certifications (e.g Europrise or ISO certifications require lots of documentations in place). Even though you might have to adapt them to the issue at stake it is definitely easier and much quicker to adapt existing documentation than to start doing everything from scratch.

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