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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.



Often when I’m rewriting a document in plain language, the version I come back with prompts its original writers to reflect on what it was they were trying to say in the first place. When they see how I have interpreted what they wrote, it gives many people pause.

Fortunately – and probably evidenced by their hiring me to start with – many authors will willingly join me on the journey to a clearer way to explain things.

But there have been several times – usually when I was an in-house editor – where people have told me that they’re certain their readers will understand complex terms. It’s usually by virtue of their audience’s familiarity with the subject that they think people will understand industry terms.

I will admit to having let many of those terms get through my filter. Often I have suggested adding a box or other text that defines those words further – ‘just in case there are a few out there who can’t understand this important term.’ But where there was time in the project and other conditions (read: the political environment) permitted, we did field tests with sample readers.

Some bold folks at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are taking this even further. Their Divisions of Public Affairs and Education and others actually surveyed their employees to gauge their knowledge of the jargon used in their publications.

Read more on what they have been learning so far at the excellent Writing Matters blog; and check back there for more reports as the survey concludes.

(Thanks to colleagues from the Editors’ Association of Canada who shared the above-linked article.)

Last week I bought a funky-looking toy for my eight-month-old son. Along with the fact that he just loves it came a bonus with the instructions.

The small card – not much larger than a business card, but with rounded edges – managed to contain all of the key information in friendly, upbeat language. Only downside of course: the very small type.

But here was the capper. In about 8 point type, the final two lines read like so:

“Congratulations! You have managed to read this very tiny print.

You are a very patient person.”

How very refreshing! Happy Friday.

(BTW, the company is B. [pronounced B-dot] Toys. [the company does not seem to have its own website, but this link gives a decent description and pix of a couple other equally-funky-looking items from B.])

If you know me personally, you know that I’m in the final weeks of pregnancy, and that I’m slightly over forty. When you combine those two factors with the dreariness of February, you’ve got a blogger who has barely enough energy to do the paid and required stuff – let alone the much-enjoyed blogging in addition.

So if you are subscribed here, or check in regularly, please be patient! If posts are sparse for the next while, it’ll be because I’ve got physical demands that are competing for my brainpower.

Of course, as someone interested in how people process information, I thought I’d surf a bit to see whether science has actually found proof of this fabled ‘pregnancy brain.’ True, the energy level has declined, and my recall of recent information and events has slipped; but what about the ability to absorb and process information  (should my clients be worried)?

The abstracts of a couple studies I found seem to back up the fact that, really, ‘pregnancy brain’ is mostly, er, in our heads.

Appropriately titled Cognitive changes in pregnancy: mild decline or societal stereotype?, one study compared pregnant and non-pregnant women’s perceptions of cognitive change and their performance on 13 sensitive memory and attention tasks (Study 1) and two complex driving simulation tasks (Study 2). The pregnant women rated their cognitive abilities as worse than before, but only two performance measures from Study 1 differentiated the two groups (speed of language processing and attentional switching).

The biggest difference the study found was in the pregnant women’s perceptions of their own cognitive decline  – and the perceptions of their male partners – while they were pregnant. The women themselves rated themselves the worst. So while the study did see mild cognitive decline, it is the belief in this decline that feeds the stereotype.

Another admittedly-limited study concluded that Memory performance, but not information processing speed, may be reduced during early pregnancy. While the authors say that more longitudinal (long-term) data are needed, this study observed only slight differences in memory performance.

Whatever the data say, I can tell you that my brain feels mushier than it did nine months ago. But apart from wanting to sleep more and not being able to back my car into the garage without wrenching off the side mirror, I have managed to keep working, caring for my young daughter, and managing household matters – with no notable casualties.

That said, I’m grateful in advance for your patience while I neglect this blog for awhile to care for a newborn.

Viewing some recent posts, I’ve become painfully aware that the Blockquote feature of this blog theme produces very hard-to-read text: light-grey, in serif font,

like this – see, isn’t it hard to read?

So I’m having one of those ‘Physician, heal thyself’ moments, and sending apologies for anyone who’s had to squint at some of my posts (assuming any of you have stuck around after that!).

It may take some time, but I am on the quest for the right HTML code to correct these formatting glitches; and, I’d like to darken up and change the type in my headline on the title page for the same reason. If not, I might have to forgo this design – however otherwise clean and easy-to-use I find it to be – and maybe even purchase or create one.

Suggestions for how to fix things are welcome, so if you’re here, please don’t hold back!

I often look to the ‘discard’ shelf of my local drugstore to find serious price reductions on everyday products. This allows me to enjoy some of the luxury products I’d normally eschew.

The other week I got a tube of hair product on sale for $1.00, which would normally have cost me almost ten. At first I wondered if the product would be defective – it was a well-known brand, and the packaging was undamaged, so why the knockdown?

Turns out, the only thing wrong with it was that the printers had somehow let the following error go. oopsEvidently the product comes “Whith active fruit concentrates.”

I wonder how this error was caught after the fact? And how much in losses did the company have to swallow to replace those tubes with the correct versions? Was the proofer fired? Or is this a counterfeit product whose incorrect spelling reveals it to be so?

Either way, I’m not too concerned. My hair looks maahhh-vellous 🙂

These have been going around the Internet for years, but I thought them worth reprising.The ‘editorial’ comments are attributed to the original poster of these.

And, they help fill this too-long-vacant space for this week, while I revive my too-long-vacant brain to get back into Work Mode.

For your amusement…enjoy!


Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

That couldn’t have been easy!


Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

No crap…. really?


Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Now that’s taking things a bit far!


Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

What a guy!


Miners Refuse to Work after Death

No-good-for-nothing, lazy so-and-so’s!


Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

See if that works any better than a fair trial!


War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect!


If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Ya think?!


Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Who would have thought!


Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

They may be on to something!


Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

You mean there’s something stronger than duct tape?


Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

He probably IS the battery charge!


New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Weren’t they fat enough?!


Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

That’s what he gets for eating those beans!


Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Do they taste like chicken?


Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Chainsaw Massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Boy, are they tall!

And the winner is…

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Did I read that right?


(The rest of these I found while trying the locate the source for the above. They’re reprinted here from the site of Bob Brooks at Texas A&M University, and do list the original headlines’ source):

Study Finds Sex, Pregnancy Link

Cornell Daily Sun, December 7, 1995

Whatever Their motives, Moms Who Kill Kids still Shock Us

Holland Sentinal, date unknown.

Survey Finds Dirtier Subways After Cleaning Jobs Were Cut

The New York Times, November 22

Larger Kangaroos Leap Farther, Researchers Find

The Los Angeles Times, November 2

‘Light’ meals are lower in fat, calories

Huntington Herald-Dispatch, November 30

Alcohol ads promote drinking

The Hartford Courant, November 18

Malls try to attract shoppers

The Baltimore Sun, October 22

Official: Only rain will cure drought

The Herald-News, Westpost, Massachusetts

Teen-age girls often have babies fathered by men

The Sunday Oregonian, September 24

Low Wages Said Key to Poverty

Newsday, July 11

Man shoots neighbor with machete

The Miami Herald, July 3

Tomatoes come in big, little, medium sizes

The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia, March 30

Dirty-Air Cities Far Deadlier Than Clean Ones, Study Shows

The New York Times, March 10

Man Run Over by Freight Train Dies

The Los Angeles Times, March 2

Scientists see quakes in L.A. future

The Oregonian, January 28

Wachtler tells graduates that life in jail is demeaning

The Buffalo News, February 26

Free Advice: Bundle up when out in the cold

Lexington Herald-Leader, January 26

Prosecution paints O.J. as a wife-killer

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, January 25

Economist uses theory to explain economy

Collinsville Herald-Journal, February 8

Bible church’s focus is the Bible

Saint Augustine Record, Florida, December 3, 1994

Clinton pledges restraint in use of nuclear weapons

Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 6

Discoveries: Older blacks have edge in longevity

The Chicago Tribune, March 5

Court Rules Boxer Shorts Are Indeed Underwear

Journal of Commerce, April 20

Biting nails can be sign of tenseness in a person

The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York, May 2

Lack of brains hinders research

The Columbus Dispatch, April 16

How we feel about ourselves is the core of self-esteem, says author

Louise Hart

Boulder, Colorado, Sunday Camera, February 5

Fish lurk in streams

Rochester, New York, Democrat & Chronicle, January 29

Chick Accuses Some of Her Male Colleagues of Sexism

The Los Angeles Times, June 23

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