Communicating simply

I wish I were a better writer. Gerry McGovern talks about the need to cut through the jargony verbosity and get to the point in The need for simple English on the Web. Of course he means simple [insert vernacular language here] on the web.

    Writing is about communicating. If your reader requires a dictionary of slang in order to wade through your content, chances are you won’t have too many readers. Someone recently sent me a quote. It’s by Albert Camus, a great French writer. He stated: “Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators.” How do you know amateur writing? It’s verbose. It uses lots of complicated words. It takes five pages to say what can be said in one. The irony of simple writing is that it’s very hard to do. Complexity is often a mask behind which the writer who doesn’t quite understand what they are writing about hides.

I like the line he quotes, "In the mystery lies the margin." My colleagues often joke about how managers in large corporations (usually in corporate center functions) use jargon and buzzwords to confuse and to keep themselves in job, being sure to adopt every new passing fad without thoroughly understanding the meaning of the words. I've been known to latch on to new terms, but I think the key to using jargon is to introduce/explain every concept/term you use before you start a discussion for the benefit of those who are uninitiated. There's no point having a discussion if the message won't be received. It's one of the small rules of thumb that I took away from writing papers for publication in grad school.

Still digesting this statement:

    George Orwell, another great writer, once wrote: “If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it.” The Web is the world of the impatient reader. People scan their way across text, looking for the meaning, the relevance.

    What do you get when you take Orwell’s rule to its extreme? Classification (taxonomy). On the Web we have learned to read by classification; is it in this section of the website or that one?

I think McGovern's article speaks more to the importance of communicating simply in prose and in our choice of words for labels and such. Not quite sure about the relevance in selecting terms for classifciation. Controlled vocabularies, specifically, are often rich with jargonny terminology. Resolution of simple terms to jargon should be handled programmatically, mapping jargon to nodes in a taxonomy.