Report: plain English training course with Philip Bryan

by Jane Fitzpatrick

 'It has long been known that, not to put too fine a point on it, a reader can reach the end of a sentence wishing that an editor had traversed the terrain before them, and the sentence had been made into something altogether simpler and clearer.' Are your editorial hackles up? Philip's well-focused course helped its grateful participants to find and fix the faults in sentences like this.

More than 20 editors met at the CAE on 8 September for this workshop. We began by trying to define plain English, and this exercise helped emphasise that we should always keep the intended reader in mind.

Philip suggested six steps for tackling waffle:

  • shorten your sentences
  • cut excess words
  • replace complex words with simple
  • use the active voice
  • address the reader directly
  • use vertical lists.

The exercises helped us develop some practical tools to use on wordy text. Sometimes the participants provided great solutions to make meaning clearer, while keeping the author's original intention intact. I wholeheartedly recommend Philip's six-step program for (text) recovery!

Jane Fitzpatrick is a member of the professional development subcommittee.