Plain Language & Clear Communications Resources—Updated 2021
In 2015, I wrote about re-energizing my interest in and focus on plain language & clear communications. This is still true: I love this work.
For fellow writers and editors, here are some of the resources I find useful. I will add to this list and tweak it regularly. And if you have any suggestions, please contact me with them. Thanks!
- Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) http://plainlanguagenetwork.org
- the definition for plain language from the International Plain Language Federation, as quoted at <https://plainlanguagenetwork.org/plain-language/what-is-plain-language/> : A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.
- Oxford Guide to Plain English, by Martin Cutts—now in the 2020, 5th edition
- about upcoming ISO standards for plain language: <https://www.iso.org/news/ref2566.html>
- Plain Language in Plain English, edited by Cheryl Stephens and other work by Cheryl Stephens
- Plain Language: Clear and Simple, a Canadian government publication now available via Iva Cheung’s blog < http://www.ivacheung.com/2014/03/plain-language-clear-and-simple/>
- How to Write Clearly, available as a pdf from the European Commission at < http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/clear_writing/how_to_write_clearly_en.pdf>
- Claire’s Clear Writing Tips—an expansion on the above, also available as a pdf from the European Commission at <https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/clear_writing_tips_en.pdf>
- United States government plainlanguage.gov “Checklists and handouts” listing at <https://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/checklists/>
The “What to Do and When” Steps to Publication Series—Introduction and Single-Author Self-Publishing
For me, a lot of days are filled with questions and answers about what publishing involves, who does what and why, when to do it and why, what the options are, who has the expertise, what time and money it will take, why should we do this step now and not later, can we jump this step, where we are in the process and what’s next… etc.
So, here are the steps:
- define the project
- create it
- refine it
- refine it more
- publish it
Yep, it looks simple but like most things, it’s more complex in reality. Below is one long version (and with more to come, which I’ll add over time) for projects. As you can see, the steps might vary somewhat and there might be some circling back to an earlier step or some points to pause and ponder, but there is a logic that is efficient.
- Fellow editors and writers, feel free to use any part of this blog, but please play fair by crediting me in full.
- For writers and publishers, please contact me if you have a project you would like to discuss.
See the growing series about process. Each kind of a publication follow the simple process but has its own issues.
- Process: Single Author Self-Publishing—following
- Single Author to Write in English a Book to Be Published Traditionally in a Second Language—in my May 2017 blog
Process: Single Author Self-Publishing
- Define the project
- develop the expertise
- draft a proposal (that answers what the subject is, who the target readers are, why, and how, including specifications such as whether it will be printed traditionally, sold as an e-book, in some combination of printed and e-book and web site, black and white, colour, with or without illustrations, with or without an index, etc., etc.)
- draft an outline
- pitch the publication
- revise the outline
- develop the budget
- draft a chapter, etc.
- Create it
- research further
- draft the manuscript part by part
- solicit response in cycles from peer reviewers and editor (and with reference to those questions what, who, why, and how again)
- Refine it
- send to editor as whole and get feedback
- draft to address gaps and revisions decided upon
- send to editor for structural and stylistic edit
- respond to structural and stylistic edit
- finalize draft with editor (and with reference to those questions what, who, why, and how again)
- Refine it more
- send to copy editor
- review copy edit and respond
- finalize copy edited manuscript to go to designer
- review design and respond
- finalize designed/laid-out publication to go to proofreader
- send to indexer
- review index
- final changes to be made for final forms (printed paperback and e-book version)
- go to print
- go live with e-version
Editing Goes Global and Testimonials
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the first ever international conference for editors of the English language—Editing Goes Global, hosted by the Editors’ Association of Canada, the Professional Writers Association of Canada, and others, including the Plain Language Association International. What a whirlwind and an opportunity to look outward at best practices around the world!
- 500 speakers and other attendees from around the world
- workshops, informal discussions, outstanding learning and sharing, and networking packed into 3+ days in Toronto
For more news about the results, watch these blogs. And for an opportunity to look back, please see my new web page of testimonials, in the sidebar. Thanks to the wonderful writer and editor colleagues I have worked with over the years and who contributed!
Scheduling Writing and Editing Time
Building in procrastination time: Today I’m in-between some stages with different manuscripts so doing some tasks that have been waiting and that I find challenging, nearly painful. So I have turned to my computer, away from my computer, back to my computer, to the bulletin board that needs to be rearranged, to my address book to call my dentist to re-schedule an appointment, back to my computer, and to my little toe that is really very sore.
Finally, it occurred to me exactly how familiar this is. But often I’m on the other side.
When I work with authors who need to do something that they don’t like doing (e.g., respond to an edit, do some more research, double-check some sources), they often need extra time to get started, to procrastinate, to putz about, and to finally settle into it and get it done. They might even take the time to write some navel-gazing little bit of this before doing the hard stuff. They might need some procrastination/putzing time built into the schedule I give them for the task – but not too much, because that will allow them to put off the task too long. So, authors, yes, I am sympathetic and do understand what you’re going through. And yes, fellow editors, try adding in some putz-about time if you’re in charge of the schedule.
Thank you, my toe is better now.
Writer and Editor: 5 Housekeeping Tips
Some seemingly small things can make working with an editor easier for both writer and editor. Here are 5 tips that matter for 95% of all projects:
- document type—Please use the standard: Microsoft Word (MS Word) is the standard for manuscripts intended for publication and MS Word can be read by PC and Macintosh computers. For any other option you can imagine (e.g., PDF, PowerPoint if you have developed a presentation, Pages for Macintosh) check first with the editor and publisher; in other words, do not start drafting in a format other than MS Word unless you have confirmed with your editor and publisher that it will meet later requirements. In many author-editor situations, editors use MS Word’s Track Changes function and Comment function; editors then require writers to review edits using those functions. If you have questions about these functions, ask me. (For more about Track Changes, Comments, and responding to the editor, watch for coming posts.)
- document and version identification—Each document needs to be identified with a clear, logical title and each version of that document needs to have a distinct change in title. Some publishers have distinct styles that must be used for manuscripts; other publishers are less rigid but ALL situations require titles that are clear and distinct for each version. (For example: compare these two titles:
The second title is unlikely to be confused by anyone.) This might seem fussy, but there have been many times when the wrong version has been saved or checked or (even) printed because of problems with what the tech people call “version control.” Addressing issues with version control can be scary, time-wasting, and expensive.
- page numbers—Unless you are submitting a really short manuscript (say, 1000 words), please number your manuscript pages using the automatic page-numbering function. (Sure, I can add page numbers when I receive the ms. really easily, but it will be easier for us both if we can start referring to page 11 or 211 right from the start.) In Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, this means choosing Document Elements, choosing Page #, and selecting any option within this.
- formatting—Standard formatting is best: 12-point serif type, running text with single spaces after periods, with hard returns only for paragraph breaks, and with chapter titles and other headings clearly identified, but no other special formatting. When in doubt, check beforehand. Line spacing should be consistent (and automatic). (The number of pages does not matter; see a coming post about word counts.) Fancy formatting or anything that is non-standard in Microsoft Word is likely unnecessary and will need to be removed; removing the formatting takes time, which costs money. For tables, charts, maps, other visuals, layout, etc., talk to me about your ideas; we can sort out the best way to handle needs and wants.
- sources—Please, please, please note all sources for any quotations or paraphrases, and err on the side of caution. Ideally, confirm in advance about the source citation style you will use. However, if you do not do this, note everything you can about a source—for example, not just the web site but also the web page title, any cited author, the URL or DOI, and the date accessed. If it’s a print book, note the author(s), title (and subtitle), publisher, year and location of publication, any special edition, and the page number. Please do not leave until later noting sources from your web search History option or note only “United Nations web page, most recent data” or hope that the book will still be on your favourite shelf at the reference library.