Hey, do you have 4 minutes and 24 seconds to watch a great video? Maybe not. What if I told you that watching it would not only help you write better, but also make you laugh?
Now what do you say?
I ask you, what could be funnier than watching two baseball buddies talking about a Twins game? One is named Peter Plainspoken and the other Gloria Gobbeltygook (so spelled even though the narrator pronounces her last name "gobbledygook").
In just a few minutes more than it will take you to read this column, you'll get a highly entertaining overview of how to write something your readers will understand the first time they read it — which as the video points out should always be your goal.
Offering practical advice such as "Write the way you speak" and "Edit with your reader in mind," the video presents nothing startlingly new. In 1988 Patricia Westheimer advised in "The Executive Style Book": "Write the way you speak — conversationally and naturally." Countless other writers, both before her and after her (including me), have offered similar advice.
But what sets this video apart is its humor. I mean, it's just this side of hilarious. Of course the video also offers a serious message: "When your readers don't understand, they get confused. It also wastes time and resources, both theirs and yours." Point taken. And well stated — in plain, concise, direct English (though I'm not fond of the indefinite "it").
The video, titled "Plain Language: Say it Simply," also breaks writing into five steps — plan, organize, write, edit and review — and as every experienced writer knows, writing is a process comprising discrete stages, not a single flash of unedited brilliance. (Editing, for example, might include proofreading for common errors such as writing "discreet" when you meant "discrete.")
Other helpful advice — such as use everyday language, use the active voice and keep sentences short — is also covered in the U.S. Securities and Exchange 2000 publication, "A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents."
If you'd like to explore the subject in more depth than the video does, Google "Stephen Wilbers SEC," and you'll find exercises corresponding to the nine main points in chapter six, "Write in Plain English."
To view the video itself, Google "Mark Dayton Plain English," which will also take you to GOP Sen. Roger Chamberlain's response to the governor's initiative. ("First, I'm thinking, is this the critical issue of the day? … Are we going to have a whole regulatory structure for 'Plain Language'?")
The video was produced by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. I didn't tell you that earlier because I didn't want to scare you away — but, hey, who says public servants can't have a sense of humor?
Whatever you do, write (and edit) with your reader in mind. And have some fun along the way.
E-mail Stephen Wilbers at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.