Say It Plainly

Communication | BCBusiness

Plain Language Association chooses Vancouver for conference aimed at helping businesses get their message across

With the 20th anniversary conference of the Plain Language Association International conference coming to Vancouver in October, local businesses are abuzz with awareness of the need for plain English.
“Being confronted with confusing and incomplete information is something we deal with daily,” says Katherine McManus, one of the conference organizers and director of the Writing and Communications Program at SFU Continuing Studies. “Problems arise mainly from the writer’s lack of awareness of audience.” Consider, for example, a company’s instruction manual for a product, she says. Is it written with the audience in mind? The average person finds most instructions hard to follow and frustrating, and that’s not the experience that companies want customers to associate with their product.
How can companies incorporate plain language into their materials? Plain Language Association co-founder Kate Harrison Whiteside, who will be leading a panel at the conference, offers some advice. She explains that simplifying documents by using user feedback, reader-friendly design and common terms can go a long way toward reducing customer complaints. “Businesses can stand out from the crowd by committing to plain language and letting their clients know that they’re doing so,” she says.
What can businesses do to ensure clear communication? Conference chair and Plain Language Association co-founder Cheryl Stephens has some suggestions. “Learn what you can about the reader you are targeting,” she says. “Always suppose that people do not understand you so that you will make a constant effort to be understood.” Stephens also suggests using visual aids whenever possible, creating a positive tone and avoiding industry jargon. “Terms such as ‘proactive,’ ‘paradigm shift,’ and ‘touch base’ should be avoided as much as possible. Many readers find these words vague, pretentious, and annoying,” she explains.
Harrison Whiteside reminds companies that plain language is more essential than ever with online and mobile communication. “Technology has led to a client base that wants information quickly, clearly and easily,” she says. “If a document doesn’t meet these criteria, it needs plain language.”
The Plain Language Association International conference takes place at the Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites in Vancouver, B.C., from October 10-13, 2013. For registration information and program details, visit International Plain Language Day events are open to the public from 2-4 pm on Sunday, October 13 at the hotel. Visit for more information.