Another Plea for Plain English!

Yesterday, I was listening to NPR’s Here and Now at lunch time while running a few errands in my car. I tuned into a great story about the “Plain English Campaign”, which was founded in 1979 by now 71-year old Chrissie Maher.  The organization’s mission is to campaign against “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information.”

Host Robin Young and Ms. Maher shared a lot of interesting statistics on how organizations from the Veteran’s Administration, the Navy, the FAA to General Electric have saved time, money and even lives by rewriting documentation and other materials in clear, simple language instead of a lot of jargon and babble. The two used terminology favored in the financial services industry to illustrate how complicated, contrived, dense language makes financial documents so difficult to understand—and probably contributed to the economic meltdown.

Hmmm…I thought, the technology industry suffers from this too. But my overall impression is that as an industry, we are communicating more clearly than we have in the past. Sadly when I got home, I realized we may have further to go than I thought, as I opened a press release for “New Adobe Flash Builder for Increases Developer Productivity for Creating Rich Internet Applications in the Cloud” in my inbox. The first paragraph reads as follows:

SAN FRANCISCO – October 26, 2009 – [NYSE: CRM], the enterprise cloud computing company, and Adobe Systems Incorporated [NYSE: ADBE], today announced the availability of a new offering that unites the power of the platform with the richness and ubiquity of the Adobe® Flash® Platform to enable a new generation of cloud-based rich Internet applications (RIAs).  The new offering, Adobe® Flash® Builder™ for, integrates the two platforms to bring the richness of the consumer Web to enterprise cloud applications to enable a significantly improved level of developer productivity.

Whoa—translation, please! I think that the release is saying that these two vendors are teaming up to make it easier for developers to write cooler, more interactive Internet applications. But what was the person (or people) that wrote this thinking–or drinking—when they came up with that? Between “power of the Force”, the cloud, the flashes, the RIAs and the rest of the hot air, they’ve made it unnecessarily complex to sort through. You might even think this was an alliance between different empires in Star Wars, instead of two technology companies.

Believe me, I understand that it very tough to break down complex, technical things into understandable terms. And of course, it can be hard to resist trying to make all this stuff sound (more?) exciting. I’m setting up an RSS link to the Plain English site as another reminder to always at least try to demystify the technology solutions I’m writing about, instead of making them harder to understand.

3 Responses

  1. I totally agree. I think the 1,990-page Healthcare Act could be another example. I wonder if, at times we don’t have a sort of reverse paparazzi situation. Given the competition for position in search engine results, and for the fame it brings, is this not an example of these companies chasing the paparazzi? Thereby, using every word in every manner they can think of(and poorly at that) to get search engine hits?

  2. That is really an interesting idea. If that’s the plan, we can only expect more and more garbled gibberish. Yikes!

  3. […] are you using a lot of technical and business jargon and fluff? As I discussed in this blog post, Another Plea for Plain English‎, it can be tough to break down complex or new technology solutions into understandable terms. […]

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