There’s hope in them words.
In the past 12 months or so, the likes of former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, research from fund manager Invesco, and various and sundry media have pointedly – and poignantly – argued for the use of plain language. In everything.
No one individual, no one corporation is immune. Bloomberg BusinessWeek dove into the intricacies of Goldman Sachs’ rules for communication. [Who could resist this one: “Each individual’s correspondence must be sampled no less often than annually”?]
Financial advisers were another target. Corporate mission statements received another volley of “please simplify.” And Levitt took his once-and-future colleagues to task for using Wall Street-ese.
All these op-eds make us happy. Most communicators and designers are, by instinct and by training, advocates of the strategically plain. But where’s the reinforcement for great writing behaviors? What’s the overall plan for change?
Once upon a time, the reward for best prose was bigger and better attention, which translated into book sales, media readership, even Internet visits. Today, those incentives don’t work; bigger and better attention goes to Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber.
Maybe change for plain starts at the grassroots, with some simple tools put into the hands of influencers and agitators. It could be a five-point checklist, inserted into brochures and annual reports, pasted on explanatory packaging. Readers and consumers fill out that card, returning it to the originator. Additional pennies per purchase or per stock share are given to those companies excelling in streamlined (and comprehensible) words.
Or for quick returns, how about a national award, with Hollywood-ish publicity, celebrity presenters, and re-tweets for the best non-advertising copy in different categories? The statue would, of course, be called Mark, after author Twain who said he would never “write ‘metropolis’ for seven cents when I can write ‘city’ and get paid the same.” A road show, then, would forever cure winners of using more than three-syllable words.
Psst: Brangelina, you busy?