Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Speaking my language

I was reading the latest Ontario Power Authority’s NewsOn-line newsletter and it had a terrific example of plain language principles that I thought I must share with you. It was a story about the recent rain storm that hit Toronto, dumping the most one-day rainfall ever recorded in Toronto.

The paragraph in the story that made me cheer was this:

About 100 millimetres (four inches) of rain fell during the storm that struck during the evening commute on July 8. It is the heaviest one-day rainfall recorded in Toronto.

Why do I love that simple two-sentence paragraph? Because it helped me understand what 100 millimetres of water is – it’s about 4 inches. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read recently about flooding in Alberta, for example, that have only provided the rainfall in millimeters – a concept I simply can’t wrap my mind around. (I know I should be able to comprehend what a millimeter is, since Canada uses the metric system. But, I grew up in the non-metric world and so a millimetre of water simply doesn’t mean much to me.)

By including that additional information in simple parentheses the writer helped me – and I suspect many other readers – immeasurably. And, as you can see – the additional parenthetical information didn’t disrupt the flow of the story or add much to the length.

That’s good business writing!

Plain Language writing is all about expressing information in ways so that different readers can understand it.