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Let's do it! Apply plain language at work.

None of us is a natural-born writer. We have to learn writing and we learn it from others. Sometimes we forget what we have learned and we need to turn to resources that help us get back on track. Even after learning about plain language writing, we find that the demands of the workplace test our knowledge and our committment in the face of resistances.

Writing plainly is not casual or untutored writing. We still need our guides and sources of support and authority. This column will explore some of the resources that we can keep close by as we work.

Use resources on plain language

While we want to keep the necessary tools on hand, many of us are not familiar with the types of resources available beyond the basic dictionary and thesaurus. First of all, your dictionary should be a Canadian edition. A thesaurus or dictionary of synonyms and antonyms is useful when you need a simple word but have gotten stuck on a longer or more formal word than you want. Oher references to keep at your desk include checklists, writing and style guides.

Two books of particular value for us in Canada are

* Editing Canadian English, Editor's Association of Canada, Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, Vancouver

Editing Canadian English was written for editors, writers, teachers and others who work with words in Canada. The book was developed as a reference book and provides a systematic approach to creating a Canadian Style. The authors assert that with a language which has evolved with an English, French, and American influence, situations arise where an editor or writer may need to refer to Editing Canadian English (ECE) to find the appropriate spelling, punctuation, or presentation method.

The first five chapters of ECE address problem areas in capitalization, abbreviations, symbols, and punctuation. It covers the use of compound words and spelling, also looking at common words which have more than one spelling such as colour/color.

The second half of the book looks at the use of French in English context, avoiding gender and other bias in writing, measurements, documentation, and concerns of editors about the law. The book also includes a glossary with a number of special interest items for Canadian editors.

* The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing by the Department of the Secretary of State, Dundurn Press Limited

The Canadian Style was written to provide a common style to written material produced by all departments of the Canadian federal government. It surveys abbreviations, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. It recommends a style for reference matter, bibliographies, indexes, usages and geographical names. It offers style guides for letters, memorandums, reports and minutes. Then it proposes methods for eliminating sexual, racial, and ethnic stereotyping.

Use a checklist

A writing checklist can be a handy reminder. Choose one from the many available in plain language manuals or construct your own.

From the library, you can get an exceptional writing checklist by Edward Fry, the creator of the Fry Graph for measuring readability. Fry contributed an article, "Writeability: The Principles of Writing for Increased Comprehension" to a publication of the International Reading Association, Readability: Its Past, Present and Future, edited by Beverley L. Zakalu and S. Jay Samuels. The Fry article contains an appendix which sets out his guidelines for comprehensible writing, called a "Writeability Checklist". This was reprinted in Rapport: News about plain language, No. 6, January 1993.

Prepare a plain language style guide

People who have taken a plain language course often return to the workplace to find resistance to their new writing style. Look to the corporate style manual for support or build support for plainness by contributing to revising your corporate style guide.

Grammar checkers

Develop the habit of running your documents through a software program that will check your writing for grammar and readability. Some word processors have these programs built in. The separate programs available include Grammatique and Style Writer which is a plain language editor as well.

Provide writing training and tips to co-workers

Encourage other staff to take professional writing courses or provide courses in-house. Start a writing-tips column in your staff newsletter. Hold brown-bag lunches where you share what you have learned about plain writing.

Develop a plain language library

Start a collection of reference books on grammar, style and process in your office library.

Cheryl Stephens is coordinator for the international Plain Language Consultants Network and president of Plain Language Partners Ltd. in British Columbia.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stephens, Cheryl
Publication:LawNow
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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