Feds make better grades in 2015

The Center for Plain Language recently released final grades for US federal agencies. After completing a rigorous evaluation process, they concluded that Participation by agencies in the Center for Plain Language Federal Plain Language Report Card reached an all-time high: 23 agencies submitted materials for review, including all 15 Cabinet-level departments. Compliance scores increased overall: Eight… Read more

Reaching (and respecting) veterans with plain language

To honor our US veterans today, let me share an example of exemplary writing practice from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). A team working on a form wanted to use the question, “When were you last (gainfully) employed?” They felt that the term “gainfully employed” would gather more legally sufficient and accurate information than just… Read more

Readers label you based on your style

I’m in Seattle at the Association for Business Communication conference. Erin Kane and I will present “Reader Perception of Workplace-Writer Attributes” this afternoon. (Our fellow researchers, Nicole Amare and Alan Manning couldn’t make the trip.) We had more than 600 working adults in the US tell us whether they preferred the more plain or less… Read more

Does essay writing help you succeed as a writer at work?

Today’s post is in honor of the National Day on Writing. U.S. students spend years writing essays. They believe they know how to write. (And also often believe that writing is meaningless.) What they do not know is that different rhetorical contexts (different goals, audiences, content) give rise to different ways of organizing and presenting information in effective written messages.… Read more

Lost in (virtual) space

We are regularly asked whether our flagship book Trees, maps, and theorems is available in PDF or any other electronic format. (No, it isn't, and if you own a copy, you can probably guess why.) Recently, a reader asked me about the e-book movement. A difficult question: ebooks have definite advantages, yet I find I am skeptical, perhaps because I value visual structure so much. Read more

What The Artist is telling us (silently)

Recent winner of five Academy Awards, seven British Academy Film Awards, and three Golden Globes, Michel Hazanavicius's 2011 silent movie The Artist must have done some things right. Besides providing viewing pleasure to many of us, it reminds us of three basic principles of effective communication. Read more

Do not keep your rocking horse on a leash

After a visit to Saint Petersburg, my friend Marc Parisel sent me a picture of a delightful set of signs—a perfect reminder of the intrinsic limitations of visual representations. Essentially, pictures are always ambiguous and condemned to be concrete. Read more

Chart of the day… but for other reasons

On 24 June 2011, Business Insiders featured this display as their chart of the day—a page that even made LinkedIn Today (“the most shared news on LinkedIn,” they say). I discuss it on this blog as my own chart of the day, but for very different reasons: this graphical display exemplifies several shortcomings typical of the charts produced these days. Read more

Protect your lists against gunk!

There is nothing wrong with using lists (with or without bullets), unless of course anything about the list is wrong, as is too often the case on presentation slides… and in commercial advertising. A bullet list at a Shell gas station in California exhibits everything that can go wrong. Read more

Don’t overdo it (no kidding?)

I have mixed feelings about this Microsoft SlideFest. Certainly, I salute any initiative that helps presenters create better slides; today's average slideshow is so awful that every little tip helps. At the same time, I have my doubts about both the approach adopted for the SlideFest and the examples of improved slides. Read more
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