Last week, we posted a link to one of the two performances of I Can Read Clearly Now (a.k.a., the Plain Language Ditty), the song we adapted from Johnny Nash’s original classic I Can See Clearly Now.

HealthNet video on YouTube: I Can Read Clearly Now

This bright and positive interpretation will warm any wintry mood!

Here’s the second way some literacy advocates out there took our words and Nash’s tune … and let their imagination do the rest! This next YouTube rendition was the brainchild of Coco Lukas and his fellow health literacy advocates at HealthNet, Inc., a community health resource center in Indianapolis, Indiana, whose mission is one I can sure get behind:

“To improve lives with compassionate health care and support services, regardless of ability to pay.”

Inspired by the song’s message at the PLAIN conference in Vancouver and the International Plain Language Day events on October 13, Lukas and colleagues went home and put together the colourful, positive video you see below – complete with young, enthusiastic voices … and animals! Have a look and a listen; it’ll no doubt add some warmth to your winter day.

Read, see and hear lots more from the conference on the official PLAIN 2013 conference site. Check it out – and also the Plain Language Association International site – to get the latest in research and insights about clear communication for all. 

We’re thrilled with – and honoured by – the number of views the Plain Language Ditty received from plain-language enthusiasts when we posted it back in October just before the Plain Language Association International’s conference in Vancouver.


Dorrie Ratzlaff and Rush Clement perform I Can Read Clearly Now.

It had started as just a light diversion from my normal routine of editing health, legal and financial language: a way to contribute to the conference that might engage the participants senses differently while literally singing the praises of clear messages for all. Conference organizer Cheryl Stephens had asked if I could do an adaptation. I thought of this song, and you’ve seen the result!

Well, it sure took off from there, and now others have started offering their own interpretations. Here’s the first of these, part of the festivities in Vancouver to honour International Plain Language Day on October 13, 2013. So turn up those speakers and enjoy!

Thanks and ‘props’ to performers Dorrie Ratzlaff and Rush Clement, and also to Kate Whiteside for managing the production and publishing for the video. By the way, you can see a lot more from the conference on the official PLAIN 2013 conference site.

As our title suggests, there’s yet another interpretation out there, too! Watch for it in the next few days … and keep humming this enduring tune (especially as winter drapes its blanket over most of us North of the Equator).

More on the original song
We must again acknowledge that this was an adaptation to start with: from the original recording by Johnny Nash, first released back in 1972 [when your writer was just a wee babe yet]).

Our first post did not mention that along with Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley, Canadian jazz songstress Holly Cole also covered this song with her Trio back in 1993. A YouTube search also brings up a Bobby McFerrin performance.)

20130509_191902As we count down the last week before the 20th Anniversary conference of the Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), and in honour of International Plain Language Day October 13, here is a song I’ve adapted for the occasion.

It celebrates the benefits of plain language in helping us more clearly see, hear, read and understand the information around us.

Feel free to hum or sing along as you go …I bet you remember the tune!


I Can Read Clearly Now  (sung to the tune of Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now)

Original Copyright: Epic Records and Johnny Nash, (c) 1972 **

Adaptation © Michelle Black, October 2013


[Verse One]

I can read clearly now

The fog is gone

I can see all it means

and what to do.


Gone are the loaded words

That had me lost.

It’s gonna be a much, much easier day.

[Verse two]

I think I can make it now,

The noise is gone.

Passive voice and noun stacks have disappeared.

Here is that message I’ve been looking for.

Wow, this is a much, much easier way.


Read it out loud, it sounds like they’re talking.

You understand – and know where you’re walking ….

[Verse three to end]

I can hear clearly now.

It all makes sense.

I can make sound decisions and act on them.20130530_173445

I’ve got a clearer path in front of me.

Plain language has helped, helped me make my way.

[Last line:] Plain language can help, help you make your way.

– Ends

** See more on the Wikipedia page for background on the original song and artist. October, come and hear the straight talk from the experts!

Plain Language Association International, the international association of plain-language, document design, literacy and other advocates, will be hosting its 20th Anniversary Conference in Vancouver.

PLAIN logo

The event stands to be a must-attend: You’ll hear from  speakers from all over the world including presenters from Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand,  Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and Britain. And of course, colleagues from Canada and the U.S. (including your humble blogger …).

The conference coincides with PLAIN’s 20th anniversary and International Plain Language Day on October 13.

We have a lot to celebrate! Won’t you join us?

> Learn more on the 2013 PLAIN Conference site, or

> check out the PLAIN website to learn about our work and members.


Turns out that – while I wasn’t looking – Messages entered its fifth year! At an average thousand-plus hits a year, I’m feeling pretty good about Li’l Bloggy.

So I’m celebrating four years of blathering on with another visual that quite plainly speaks for itself, thank you.

(In case you’re not clicking through the image … this comes from a post on the facebook page of Dartmouth Learning Network., shared in a terrific local group I’m part of called Read, Damn You!)

The Rights of the Reader

By Daniel Pennac, Illust. by Quentin Blake.

The other day I came across a link to this gem of a poster. It was linked from a well-known blog I follow called The Happiness Project, which mentioned the 1992 book of the same name (which I can’t wait to get my hands on as well!).

I love its simplicity and universal appeal — whether you’re a non-, weak, online, sometime, or voracious reader, you have these rights and likely recognize some of these behaviours in yourself.

And for those of us who make our living by communicating, I see this as a simple-yet-powerful communication tool: a Ten Commandments of Truths We Must Always Remember before we prepare something that we want (or need) people to read.

persondocumentBeen off the blog for awhile, but appreciate the visits we’ve gotten lately (… and not all of them were SPAM).

Speaking of visits, I was on CBC Radio Sudbury last Friday via their phone interview with me about plain-language wireless contracts. Currently, the Ontario government is getting ready to put forth a bill demanding changes to bills and contracts for cellphones.

Got a few minutes and an interest in plain-language contracts?

> Have a listen!

International Plain Language Day official siteAs part of SimplyRead’s contribution toward International Plain Language Day 2012, we created a short PowerPoint presentation: International Plain Language Day – Why it’s worth celebrating. It’s part of the ‘virtual celebration’ that continues beyond the 0fficial day this past October 13.

In it you’ll see examples that typify writing we see in business and everyday life, then After versions that demonstrate the value plain language adds. You’ll also get a few tips to help you design your information more clearly for readers.

Take a look, share it … use it however works to help people learn the value of plain language. Just make sure you use it as-is and say from whom and where you got it. (Yes, even we plain language people have disclaimers!)

And while you’re there, check out how much other impressive work is afoot to support clear communication around the world. Most of what you’ll find there was created recently – so you know it represents the the ‘latest and greatest’ on what plain language is, why it works, and who’s embracing it to improve their communications.

How’s this for plain language?

The last time I had a blog in 2007, the final post was called Gone fishin’. I was done with that first iteration and decided not only to go fish … but also to jump ship. I wasn’t digging the blog tool I’d chosen, and my business was taking up more of my extra time.

This time ’round, I’m in a similar boat (along with using too many nautical metaphors).

Writing and editing is what I do for my work the rest of the time, and it’s taken on greater steam.

Fortunately, I get to spend even more time writing for clients now as SimplyRead continues to take on larger-scale plain-language projects. And I’m ramping up to get involved in prep for International Plain Language Day October 13. But it’s lately left precious little time for Messages (and for you, if you’re a regular follower).

My bulb’s burnt out

But the clincher has been health-related. Along with the normal stresses of managing a business and life with two young kids in the expanding suburbs, years of battling chronic food sensitivities have doused much of my already-flickering flame. In plain language: to balance out my energy, I need to do fewer things better, eat more meat and carve out more Me Time.

So I’m taking a break from this space for awhile. But I continue to find and and share new info and critical thinking about plain language, simpler processes and communications. You’ll find me on the SimplyRead facebook page and on our Twitter feed.

Can’t figure out what to have for dinner? Maybe it’s decision fatigue.

Before I run off, here’s something that’s grabbed and held my attention. It turns out that I’m not alone in my predicament. If you ask researchers Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, many of us struggle with what they call ‘decision fatigue’ when their lives get too demanding.

This problem stems from the number of decisions each of us is faced with in today’s more complex, information-soaked world. Here’s my version: Daughter asking “Mom, what’s for dinner tomorrow?” while I respond to a client’s text, seated in front of my bank’s log-in screen, while my toddler pulls on my shirt and the phone buzzes in the background. According to Baumeister and Tierney, the commonness of multi-tasking – and the self-denial that come with all that stress – greatly impact on our personal self-discipline and willpower.

Common life patterns can compromise our willpower – who knew?

As discussed at length in this New York Times article, it’s harder for people in our times to maintain healthy willpower and make good decisions. Choosing among so many options all the time just burns out our brains.

Those of us who operate without enough money are more susceptible to decision fatigue, since the number of times we have to decide between tempting options goes up.

Does your willpower swim wit’ da fishes at certain times of the day?

Similarly afflicted are people who spend their days in back-to-back meetings, only getting to catch up at the day’s end when their energy is sapped.

Worse, they’re probably hungry (or more often, ‘hangry!’). Baumeister and Tierney say the amount of glucose is another key factor in these capacities.

This sudden limit to our better  judgment is a good explanation for why people on diets often break them: People who have to deny themselves so many things will eventually find their resources for self-regulation severely depleted … and their heads in the freezer scoping out the Haagen Dazs.

It’s also blamed for all those times we’ve heard about the outstandingly successful person who blew it all on that one bad decision … (now take a second to remember the last one in the Financial Times or TMZ that you went all schadenfreude about …).

Now that alone is a good enough reason for my Serious Need To Chill. If all these other brilliant people have gone off the deep end, I’d better get my own house ship shape lest I end up in the same kettle of fish.*

Let’s stay connected!

Until we get our blogging mojo back, if you like what you’ve seen here you can still enjoy tweets, news, musings and more to help you ‘cut the churn’:

* I should probably work on some new metaphors too, huh?

Our last few posts have looked at some of the ‘SPAM’ emails I’ve seen from people pretending to be a company or person I know, which intend to elicit my response so that the sender can then gather information from or otherwise try to take advantage of my naïve interest.

One of the tip-offs that these messages were fakes was that often they were riddled with spelling or grammar errors.

But even in large, legitimate organizations, mistakes happen. With so many people and interests involved, a few gaffes are bound to get missed.

Take the following example that recently crossed my desk:

Promotional AIR End Date: This date reflects the end of the corresponding promotional AIR. If you elect to change a billing cycle, this date could change. This date does not reflect any time period in which eligible transactions must be completed by, if any, to be subject to this promotional AIR.

Do you catch the mistake?

If, like me,  you’re just that type of smarty-pants who likes to notice other people’s grammar errors, this is your chance to shine! Tell us where you see a mistake in the above paragraph, and we’ll enter you into a prize draw. Just make sure you send us your answer by Friday, June 15. Heck, we’ll enter you even if you just surf around and leave a comment anywhere in the blog between now and that date (obvious spammers excluded).

The winner will get a copy of Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language (2005), by widely-published clear writing advocate Professor Joseph Kimble.

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