Andrew Pegler Media – Plain English editing and web copywriting
MELBOURNE’S COMPANY OF CHOICE FOR BUSINESS WRITING SERVICES AND COURSES
Andrew Pegler Media specialises in web copywriting, annual report writing, writing for government, editing for government, finance writing, editing and proofreading services and plain English writing courses.
Andrew Pegler Media was founded on the belief that everyone should have access to easy-to-understand, concise business writing. We call this plain English and are proud to be the enemy of gobbledegook, official-ese, legal-ese and bureaucrat-ese.
Since starting business in 2000 our plain English writers have helped many government departments, organisations and corporations with writing and editing their publications, websites, reports and other documents. We learn about your company, products and services, and translate that knowledge and passion into engaging copy that gets results. By helping you stay ‘on-brand’ and talk more directly to your customers, investors, electorates and employees, we make you a more effective communicator. In addition, correct grammar, punctuation and spelling ensures you’re always represented in the best possible light.
What we do
- Business writing services
- Business writing courses
- Plain English contracts and plain English insurance/banking policy documents to help customers better understand their obligations
- Government writing services
- Government editing services
- Plain English letters from banks or insurance companies
- Finance writing
- Plain English editing and proofreading
- Plain English writing courses
- Briefs and reports for government decision makers
- Tone-of-voice guidelines and easy-to-use style guides
- Proofreading for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, and applying a house style if required
- Content strategies
- Case studies about community experiences that help shape policies.
CHURCHILL, EINSTEIN AND THE ORIGINS OF PLAIN ENGLISH
An English plane …
By Andrew Pegler (first appeared in the Melbourne Age)
Winston Churchill may be well known for the battles he waged in the name of the Allied Forces but it is the lesser-known war he declared on the desecration of the English language that still rages.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, with war raging all around him, Churchill barked out an edict banning bureaucrat-ese, legal-ese, official-ese, jargon and other gobbledygook in favour of plain English. To him it was the fastest method of conveying concise, unambiguous messages to command.
As a practising plain English editor, writer and trainer I can assure you this battle is ongoing, and it is coming at us on many fronts; from the supermarket shelves to the corridors of our national capital. It is fed by intellectual vanity, fear of looking dumb, lawyers, and a general public that has been bludgeoned into submission by its dull, heavy, self-important pedantry. This enemy of clarity (and friend of the obscurantist) feeds off our numb acceptance of complex verbage in our everyday lives.
Speaking of lawyers, here’s a sample of something I recently had to turn into plain English for a law firm.
The conditions of chapters 13 and 14 shall with modifications deemed as necessary extend and apply to and in relation to this Section and others, without affect to the aforementioned in the sense of its generality, in particular with the modification that any reference to plastic or plastic products shall be construed as a reference to rubber products also in full.
That’s 58 words. Are you still awake? My solution …
What chapters 13 and 14 say about plastic and plastic products also applies to rubber.
That’s 15 words. Say no more!
Just as you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse neither should you be turning a noun into a verb. For those out there who practise these verbal gymnastics I have ‘benchmarked’ your attainment and have decided not to ‘calendar’ you a meeting, so ‘access’ your information on your way out my door before I ‘task’ you a spanking. Mind you, it can sometimes work, for example, US visionary Buckminster Fuller once described, “God as a verb not a noun, proper or improper”. Mind you, he didn’t go on to say “I God you”, if you get the drift.
Then there’s the buzzword salads that slink across my desk and curl up in the corner staring their evil stare. Buzzword users prefer ‘realise’ rather than ‘do’, ‘facilitate’ rather than ‘make easier’ or, my pet hate, ‘utilise’ rather than ‘use’. These jumbled assaults on my beloved English seem designed to intimidate, depersonalise and divert the reader from the fact that the writer may not have the answer. Scratch the surface and you may find yourself in freefall, for these battalions of nothingness often carry no precise meaning at all. A case in point is the following blast of corporate verbage I edited in an annual report for a finance client this year.
By analysing and validating strategies moving forward we can better ascertain our total customer satisfaction base and thus better empower our interactive competency team process.
Thankfully the annual report is annual! In other words:
Closely monitoring strategies teaches us more about customer satisfaction and improves our teamwork.
Just remember, real choice doesn’t exist unless we can read, understand and then act on the information we are presented with.
Eight tips for plain English business writing
Elegance of language may not be in the power of all of us; but simplicity and straightforwardness are. Write much as you would speak; speak as you think. Be what you say; and, within the rules of prudence, say what you are.
So said Henry Alford — English churchman, theologian, textual critic, scholar, poet, and writer — about 150 years ago. The same rings true today and it’s called plain English. Put simply or, dare I say it, plainly, plain English is writing something in a way that gives someone a good chance of understanding it on the first reading, and in the way that you want them to. It’s clear, direct writing, using as few words as you need, which avoids ambiguity, verbage and complex sentences. It does not, however, mean using simple words at the expense of the most accurate or writing like a pre-schooler.
The ability to provide clear government writing services, concise finance writing, policy documents, websites, brochures and other documents is an essential part of any professional career. As is editing and proof reading. While there is no magic formula, here are the eight key rules I have stuck with over my many years of plain English editing, writing and training. I hope they help!
- Consider your audience
- Keep it simple
- If you have to look up a word’s meaning, don’t use it
- Use the active voice
- Don’t use jargon if there’s a plain English equivalent
- Get your punctuation right
- Have one idea per sentence
- If it’s not crucial, delete it
I’ll leave the last piece of advice to Albert Einstein:
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.
Five tips for writing shorter sentences
We’ve all had to navigate them … the protracted strings of words (otherwise known as sentences) that seem to stretch to the horizon and veer out around Pluto, before finishing with a lap of the sun. The meaning of these arduous, dull assaults on our concentration is generally lost somewhere on the journey through the solar system. While it’s a journey that may interest NASA, here on corporate terra firma, the long sentence is the black hole of corporate comms.
In 15 years as a plain English specialist at www.andrewpeglermedia.com.au my experience has taught me to identify the client’s core communication among the flotsam and jetsam, and allow their real message to shine. In other words, for the sake of comprehension, to make it simple, to keep it easy, to ensure people understand what’s being said after one reading, I have boldly gone where many have not, and befriended the full stop.
Shorter sentences, dealing with one main point, are the most effective. This doesn’t mean over-simplifying the writing but crafting each sentence to serve one precise purpose. Just one. As a guide, a good, plain English sentence should consist of around 20 words — short enough to be clear, long enough to flow well.
Here’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ example …
Long sentences can be hard for the reader to understand, even when the punctuation is correct, because people like a gap and as a writer you have to be aware of this, and consider the impact of long sentences on your reader. Long sentences in reports, web copy, and other assorted business communications read as too wordy and dense, even if this isn’t the case, because the information in those long sentences can be too hard for the reader to grasp.
The example above is grammatically correct but the length of those sentences causes it to flow about as well as a warp in the space–time continuum. Here’s how embracing the full stop (and a bit of editing) can improve things.
Long sentences can be hard for the reader to understand, even when the punctuation is correct. This is because people like a gap and, as a writer, you have to be aware of this. Long sentences in any form of business communication make it appear too wordy and dense, even if it isn’t. This is because an excess of words can obscure the real information.
So, with all that said and done, here are my five tips to short sentence success.
- Strive for one main idea per sentence
- If you have two good ideas, then use two sentences
- Remove unnecessary words
- Could that comma be a full stop?
- Wherever you use ‘which’, ‘because’ or ‘but’, try out a new sentence instead
On that note, a quick word about ‘and’ and ‘but’. Most of us have been taught not to start a sentence with either but modern language is more conversational. And being conversational is the key to good, plain English. This makes the use of ‘but’ and ‘and’ at the beginning of a sentence much less of a sin that it once was. But don’t overdo it now!
Remember, stick to your key points and keep it simple. After all, it’s not rocket science.