User experience architecture

August 11, 2008

Plain English

Filed under: content, writing-style — Tags: , , , — uxarchitecture @ 9:24 pm

In the UK, the Plain English Campaign crusades with vigor, humour and common sense for “official” content free of jargon, gobbledegook and pomposity.  Short sentences? Yes, please.  Active voice? Sure, unless there’s a compelling reason to choose passive. Inverse pyramid style? Nicely do will that.  Clear hierarchy of headings, concise documents, simple tables, competent punctuation? All the above, please.

On the same theme, George Orwell offered  5 rules for effective writing:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

This all sounds familiar and in the established tradition of Writing for the web. People do read in a different way when using the web.  They are active, non-linear, impatient and task-oriented. 

However, clean writing remains relevant. Whether in a government form, a final demand or an e-business site, wordiness and obfuscation are equally unwelcome.  As a seasoned Web user once told me after a long lab session, “Listen, we’re not playing – we’re working.” Perhaps writing for the web is best seen simply as a specialised case of keeping it “short, sweet and simple”.

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