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The complicated way we ruined simplicity.
When and why did we start complicating language? Why are Slangbusters so adamant about plain language? How do you, as a brand benefit from such simplification?
Good questions. Why is a branding studio campaigning about plain language, so much so that even our naming communicates our despise? Yes. that’s the word. Communication. We have taken up a fight against jargon for better, effective communication.
“I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain” -Jane Wagner. And here, we want to complain about complicated language when it can easily be, well, simple.
The fields affected by the plague
The avenues that are affected by the wildfire of linguistic complexities are:
And many more, but mostly these.
A researcher spends more time decoding the complex language used in a paper to understand it rather than much-advanced phases like comprehension, interpretation, and gathering insight.
That is limited to coloring books today. Documents like the ones required in banking, filing taxes, and even getting a SIM card are processes that unfortunately require expert assistance to be completed. Legal jargon is a complicated concept in itself since the court proceedings have a certain structure and references to be taken from the constitution and there is no scope for interpretation and creativity. They even have a stenographer to further complexify, yet simplify the recording of the event.
The business world is the one we are most concerned with. Our clientele is usually people frustrated with every branding agency they have contacted giving them the same jargon with pronouns peppered in between.
What is simple language anyways?
With human evolution, everything has changed, updated, complexified. This includes the way we communicate. Cave paintings are the easiest and the simplest form of communication that exists from the initial era of the existence of our species. So timeless, even you can make out what is happening here.
The way language evolved is that they had tokens, actual shapes carved in stone as a way to communicate and transact in the Mesopotamian era. Then came the era of pictography. The same stones were now being carved with symbols and pictures instead of having to sculpt it. Then, in the logography era, we shifted from the visual to the aural mode of communication. We created phonetic signs that were not only visual but also attached to some sound. Then came the alphabet, only here, the alphabets were more of symbols that represented repetitive situations and phrases of daily use. These easily transitioned into the modern alphabets of various languages around the world.
The Plain Writing Act, 2010 of the United States (Yes, this exists) (wonder why we are writing this piece? Ask the lawmakers who passed this act) Well, they define plain language as “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field, and intended audience”
To simplify this definition of plain language, (irony says hello, again) it is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.
Who are you communicating with?
This, we can’t understand. Would this ever be easy to understand? Ideally. When the Egyptians were building structures. These symbols were the way to communicate and we evolved from drawing the whole story to using symbols to communicate more in lesser space, with lesser effort once the language became commonplace organically.
Notice how the audience was given their due regard since (non-intrapersonal) communication cannot happen without two parties and when you are communicating with the mass, it matters even more, with an audience. Most people forget that they are communicating to convey the matter of the message, rather than, or before how they communicate.
Your audience, from your communication, is supposed to
• Find what they need
• Understand what they find and
• Use what they find to meet their needs.
Why do we do this?
Why do we complicate when we can simplify without effort?
In a research where they conducted a poll of 110 Stanford undergraduates, most admitted they would changed the words in an academic essay to sound more intelligent by using complicated language.
Let’s look at our own daily lives to understand this. At lunch, you are chatting with your colleagues and making merry when suddenly, the topic changes to something of your expertise. Suddenly, you switch to your work voice as if they are a potential client who is going to give you business. This is an example of how we complicate not just the written word, but also the spoken word; we switch voices while conversing with different people in the same environment. Most lawyers are immensely proud of their work voice and have admitted that it gives them confidence.
But, does it work?
A study of speech analysis revealed that when in 2007, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell delivered a presentation at the same conference, each spoke below a collegiate level. Jobs spoke at approximately a 5th-grade level; Dell spoke at a 9th-grade level; while Gates spoke at a 10th-grade level.
Between the three of them, Jobs was ranked by the audience to be the most impactful speaker. This does not mean Jobs does not have the ability to speak above the 5th-grade level. He made a choice according to the context, the audience, and the occasion. His ability to simplify his big ideas is a helpful tool when communicating with an audience at a conference.
Sometimes, we do it to be funny
Art by nathanwpyle on Instagram
Why should we not?
Because there is so much more to life than to translate what was supposed to be easy to comprehend in the first place. We have grown up learning how to communicate and it should be an innate activity that we do, without using a lot of effort.
Why did the office of Obama’s presidency feel the need of passing the Plain Writing Act, 2010? Why do we need to simplify language? Both have answers with big overlaps.
We are all busy people, with things to do, goals to achieve, especially when we have started using the adjective ‘fast-paced’ for how the world functions, we need to do things, more effectively and in lesser time. We don’t want to waste a lot of time translating wordy documents and interpreting difficult vocabulary. Simple language saves time.
With such communication, we remove the need for unnecessary explanations, silly errors, the audience complies quickly, there is less litigation, and reduces the chances of false interpretation and miscommunication.
Also, it shows good business sense while the audience makes better and informed judgments. You don’t have to be Yoda trying to simplify his speech. Simplifying is simple.
(Yoda trying to be a Slangbuster)
How and what to do to simplify
When you ask how to simplify difficult words, just ask yourself, how will you explain it to someone you met in your carpool; a layperson, without any industry knowledge.
Simplified language is just more effort put (or not) in pre-production so it saves time during actual communication.
Resist the urge to sound formal, when there is no need. Be natural.
Latin and French phrases and abbreviations are used in courts and law schools apart from Latin and French-speaking countries.
Logical organization- have the audience in mind while creating the piece of communication. Natural Reading Sequence is a theory many designers rely upon when they create designs like the packaging.
We’re humans, we breathe between sentences. Even when we read things in mind. Try not to have sentences longer than 20 words.
Follow simple grammar rules, and don’t mind breaking them if it conveys something more easily. Use Active voice, simplest verb tenses, avoid abstract nouns, etc.
Define abbreviations at least once in the document. Otherwise, World Health Organization becomes a screaming WHO?
Reduce vast and distill information to its essence. Clear and concise. Not verbose. In this process, don’t omit the core.
To explain things in a better manner, give context. Use stories, analogies, examples, case studies. Our brains are designed to remember things better when given something to relate to, resonate to. In these cases, analogies give context for better understanding. It adds an aspect of familiarity to something that could be very new and distant to the audience.
Create systems when complexity is unavoidable. When you think that jargon is necessary but you also have an audience that might not understand that, you can create a switch for both the targets to navigate efficiently through the piece of communication. A good example is Google Maps. it shows directions visually, then in text and also in audio. This basically covers any potential maps user with any type of challenge. It is also in the process of creating maps software that helps people of other disabilities with an even more detailed inclusive approach.
You can even look at our switch
Google knows when you google synonyms
Google translator is a service used by millions and solves million communication problems, but, it is also used to complicate things
They wouldn’t have so many words for a single concept. They are interchangeable in most contexts, but each one has tiny baggage of its own matter.
You will find a lot of google predictions for almost all the gobbledygook. (try this word)
And these predictions, as we know are the results of the searches made by many. This proves that people are deliberately trying to find an allegedly better sounding or professional-looking word for something that doesn’t require googling from the audience’s side. This way, everyone is stuck in a cycle of looking for synonyms and meanings (too real, wow)
Simple language is not imprecise, or an attempt to dumb down information, or stripping out necessary information, or even a children’s book format. It is an approach to make communication simpler, effective and timely.
With jargon, you are hiding behind big words to show incompetence. With simple plain language, you’re not dumbing down or being vulnerable (no complaints if you are, you do you) but with plain language, you are being authentic and transparent because you have confidence in yourself, and this builds confidence in the customer about you and your brand. Simplicity is good business sense. A four-syllable word will not make you sound smart and trustworthy. It will reflect as pretentious, inaccessible, snobbish and even arrogant.
Your communication matters, make it worth it. Exemplary communication might have a high cost of time, intellect, wit, and at times money. Poor communication is costlier, leave alone the fact that it is ineffective.
Is complexity bad?
As we evolved, we have become anything but simple. The human brain is the most complex machinery in the world. This has enabled us to reach where we are today and the world is not going to be any simpler. One has to keep up with the complexity in order to stay relevant; the biggest proof of this is the inability of the older generations to adapt technologies that even babies seem to have prenatal knowledge of.
Hence, let’s let the magic of alliteration work yet again and put complexity in context. Contextual complexity is exactly why jargon is not something that must be frowned upon like it is. It has a place and that is the walls of the department they are supposed to be used in.
Simply put, with this piece,
We want you to realize why effective communication is simple when the audience is everyone who communicates with your brand, in both cases, a niche target or a “more the merrier approach.”
“Status quo; you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’” — Ronald Reagan
Let’s simplify and not make it messier.
Consider this as the first draft of the Slangbusters manifesto. Feel like your brand needs some untangling? Contact us now.
— by Manas Daxini, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio