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lucidity contest

non-obfuscated English
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A game. Contestants are given a set of concepts to explain, plenty of references on the topic, and some time. They each draft a concise primer on the topic. Members of the public are selected randomly to read the explanation and take a test on the topic. Contestants are scored by the test results divided by the length of their explanation. Winning submissions are donated for use in textbooks.
egnor, Sep 25 2001

Toaster Instruction Booklet Author Enraged That Editor Betrayed His Vision http://www.theonion...booklet_author.html
A healthy outlet for this guy's passions? [egnor, Sep 25 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

The Plain English Campaign http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
The 'Examples' section is very good. [hippo, Sep 25 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

ISTC http://www.istc.org.uk
Institute of Scientific & Technical Communicators [pottedstu, Sep 25 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

The Freeny Patent http://www.technolo...les/shulman0301.asp
In the patent application, more than two pages of dense language was written that meant, simply, "the server." [bristolz, Dec 26 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

[link]






       [Mephista]: //undergrads ... cash//
Where do I sign?
sdm, Sep 25 2001
  

       The Plain English Campaign are keen on this sort of thing. I often see their 'Seal of Approval' on instruction booklets, application forms, etc. See link.
hippo, Sep 25 2001
  

       Lucidity depends on your audience. I can explain something far more clearly to a mathematician using mathematical equations, which were after all devised for this purpose. Many fields of learning have such vocabularies, ranging from formal systems like the International Phonetic Alphabet to the technical language of disciplines such as biology or sociology. These jargons have developed to express the information their practitioners need to know. Explaining technical matters without using such terminology leads to confusion and misunderstanding.   

       Similarly, someone with a wide education can be instructed by making reference to objects with which they are familiar (for example, using historical and classical references to explain political situations).   

       If I want to assimilate information quickly, I want it expressed at my intellectual level. Something that is long-winded and boring is just as bad as something over-technical and obtuse. Reading the Plain English Campaign's web site feels like being talked down to by a primary school teacher.
pottedstu, Sep 25 2001
  

       I agree with much of what you say Stu, although in fairness to the Plain English Campaign they make it abundantly clear that it is *public* information that they wish to see de-obfuscated. No knowledge of the subject can be assumed by the reader in these instances, and so no jargon should be used.
Unlike you, I didn't find their site at all patronising.
Lemon, Sep 25 2001
  

       Lemon is correct. Publicly available information intended for a non-specialist audience is the Plain English Campaign's target. A good idea as this tends to be written by unecessarily prolix civil servants and read by some of the least literate mmbers of society. They've done a good job with the passport application form.
hippo, Sep 25 2001
  

       I'd be interested in seeing how well people can explain a concept using only diagrams (no words) or even gestures. Maybe those watching could try to guess what the subject was. hmm... actually that's fairly heavily baked. oops.   

       Perhaps a spoken lucidity contest would be interesting. Limited preparation time, access to some simple visual aids, and a carefully selected audience with a variety of technical backgrounds, levels of language skills, sensory impairments, learning disabilities. See how well various types of subject matter can be communicated to a broad audience, and how well speakers can adapt to that audience.
lobster, Sep 25 2001
  

       I don't see how anyone could feel that the Plain English Campaign's before/after translations are condescending. It's not a matter of eliminating specialized jargon, it's a matter of not being a doofus with long words and convoluted phrasing when there's a perfectly good concise equivalent.
egnor, Sep 25 2001
  

       The Plain English Campaign, et al, are a good step in the right direction, but they fall short of the real goal:
Haiku
  

       It's about more than just syllable count and meter. It's about crystalizing one complete thought into one perfect unit. I'd like to see the lawyers, tech writers, and textbook authors try *that*. Heh.
BigBrother, Sep 25 2001
  

       BigBrother: you're absolutely right.   

       I acknowledge others' points about the goals of the Plain English Society; their mission is a good one, but are they up to the job? My first criticism is that the website (though not their descriptions) is excessively verbose; this is however perhaps due to the desire to appeal to non-techies.   

       But also, as BigBrother hints, their language is ugly and without any literary merit. Their translations are very good; but compared to the horrendous verbosity of government forms the Altavista translator would be an improvement.   

       They seem to give a lowest-common denominator language, where elegance of expression is second to regularity and conformity. They avoid metaphors and analogies like a driver who keeps his eyes on the road through beautiful countryside. If they stick to official forms, we are ok, but you get better writing on newspaper sports pages, never mind in Orwell or Hazlitt.   

       "People should be able to understand what we write the first time they read it, especially materials that tell people how to obtain benefits or comply with requirements. This web site contains lots of resources to help writers achieve the goal of clear communication."   

       - hardly elegant; mixing colloquialisms like "lots" with more formal language like "comply" (what's wrong with "follow" or "fit"?). The structure of that first sentence in particular is clumsy, with the qualifier "especially" seeming to weaken the force of the first statement; are they backing off from their demands? Say instead, "People are not getting the benefits they deserve because the claims forms are incomprehensible."   

       I could quote more: the mixing of acronyms PL and PLAN without explaining the distinction; the long-winded yet uninformative links on the title page "see some examples of plain language" (I might say "What we want to see" instead). And the slogan "The Business of Government in the Language of People" - horrid, verbose, unmemorable, and not comprehensible at first glance.
pottedstu, Sep 25 2001
  

       BigBrother: There's already a "Poetic Legalese" and several haiku-related ideas floating around here.   

       pottedstu: Most of your complaints pertain to the implementation, not the concept. I believe the concept is sound. In fact, I like to think that the winners of the lucidity contest would be those writers who were able to sparingly use clever metaphors and pithy expressions to keep the audience entertained and make the subject memorable and interesting.   

       If not, well, there's a time and place for everything. Sometimes I just want to acquire knowledge and don't want to smell the daisies or revel in someone's poetic curlicues. I'd like to at least have the choice to optimize for something that tells me what I want to know instead of smothering me in vague allegory.   

       And above all, I believe the contest is interesting because it's challenging and objective. It's easy to bedeck your writing with ornamentation and go on at great length about how you're contributing beauty to the world. It's hard to convey a concept quickly and accurately to untrained individuals with few words, and I'd like to see that done more often.
egnor, Sep 25 2001
  

       I'm not keen on selecting random members of the public for this competition. My brilliant essay on the fine art of toenail clipping might be read by a total thicky and then I'd lose due to sheer random chance. Hardly fair.
DrBob, Sep 25 2001
  

       egnor: I agree. My rant is directed at the Plain English society.   

       The competition would be interesting, as I am always pleased to encourage good writing. It's just that you would have to decide who the audience was to be. Perhaps you could have a competition to explain ideas to 10 year olds, or politicians.   

       Professional organisations such as ISTC (Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators) in Britain often either run competitions or offer their members information on such competitions, but I'm not aware that any work in the way egnor describes. A number of universities also teach technical writing, and may well use such exercises.   

       Egnor's idea does not relate specifically to scientific ideas, but publishing them in textbooks suggests an academic slant to the competition. Composition or essay-writing assignments at school work in the way he suggests, without the textbook at the end of it.
pottedstu, Sep 26 2001
  

       Keep It Simple Stupid
thumbwax, Dec 26 2001
  

       I think most of the verbosity is due to organizations trying to be as specific as possible for (real or imagined) legal reasons.   

       On the other hand, some organizations benefit by being obfuscatory(!). A lazy Human Resources manager might make the employee handbook unreadable in an effort to embarass people into not asking quesitons. I firmly believe most health insurance companies operate on this principle.
phoenix, Dec 26 2001
  

       One of the heights of obfuscatory language is that which is used in certain patent applications, especially software and business-process inventions. The goal of some of these applications is to confuse the patent examiner, through language at once dense and vague, so that an idea, or concept, can be slipped by as a bonafide patent. The infamous Freeny patent is a prime example of this legalese-on-steroids (link).
bristolz, Dec 26 2001
  

       I'd be happy simply to eradicate social obfuscation and all associated phenomena whereby through wordsmithing and spindoctoring a person can entrap another person so that everything and anything they do or say IS held against them because it has already been re-contextualized socially to be interpreted along a strict and narrow continuum whose agenda is prefabricated from either malice or boredom purely for the amusement of some undeserving piece of sh*t who can find no other outlet for his or her jealousies and insecurities but to ruin the lives of those happier and healthier who provoke them (and then, of course, go on to capitalize on such sorry affairs to bolster his/her own delusions of pre-existing superiority).   

       Can we kill them yet, Master? Huh, can we, can we???
codesushi, Oct 13 2002
  
      
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