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  • Writer's pictureAnnette Wierstra

Plain Language: More than Words

The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has become so overused that it is now a trite cliché. That doesn’t deny the truth within it.

When we write plain language, we are most likely writing for a more practical rather than creative purpose. In a creative forum, we can take our time with descriptions and paint the picture of a character, a scene, or a mood through language. This skill will not serve us as well in a business or academic setting where we are expected to get more quickly to the point.

Background of open books. Quote: A well-designed graphic can be worth a thousand words. "

In those cases, a picture, chart, or diagram can be worth a thousand words. Let’s be more specific: a well-designed graphic can be worth a thousand words. With so many tools available to us to create charts and diagrams, adding a graphic to a report has never been easier. This is a good thing for a writer. But adding a graphic to clarify meaning requires us to consider the message and how best to communicate the main idea. We must consider what information needs to be included and what can be safely discarded. These graphics require composition, review, and editing in much the same way that our text does.

We can further reinforce our meaning by considering through structure and organization. How we group sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into sections can help clarify meaning and distill the key messages. A badly placed graphic, or poorly designed graphic can create confusion and obscure meaning. But when a graphic is designed well, set within a well-structured report, we can communicate a complex idea to our audience in far less space than if we described it in a thousand words.

Typewriter next to the book Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts.

Our plain language workshops provide practical tips for writing plain language, but we will also discuss how to use structure and graphics to further clarify our messages. We use examples and exercise to explore how we can partner language, structure, and graphics to create a whole picture for your reader.

Originally published for a Third Verb plain language workshop. Contact us to book a plain language workshop for your team.

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