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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?


Through SimplyRead, my plain-language writing business, I continue to work with organizations that are required to use plain language in their communications because their industry or customers are insisting on it.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 sets out guidelines for Ontario businesses and organizations to help them identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility. The first standard related to Customer Service became law in 2008. Now, the standards for creating, providing and receiving accessible information and communications is being streamlined as it aims toward becoming law later this year.
  • Responding to feedback from its customers, one of our business clients is implementing plain language communications across its organization: establishing templates and training support to help employees recognize and use clear writing techniques in their customer communications.

Watch this space over the next few weeks for a more personal look at why financial literacy has evolved into a subject that’s on the tongues of more people in the financial and education arenas.

Our new logo element

Our new logo element

The newest element of SimplyRead’s gradual rebranding over the past couple years has been the image of the shell, spiral, or ‘squiggly’ that appears here and above in our banner. I’m still playing with where to use it, since it first appeared in’s site navigation buttons (and feedback is welcome).

I’ve been drawn to this shape forever, likely because it reminds me of seashells and ocean waves at the beach, snailshells and sunrays at home. I’m a tree-hugging Piscean from Nova Scotia, so I figure I come by this affinity naturally. It’s also pretty common to see similar designs included in home decor items aplenty.

But why would I want to associate it with my business?

Turns out, a very similar squiggly shape is also a much more revered and powerful symbol referred to as the Golden Ratio (as well as Golden Number, Golden Spiral or Fabonacci Number)  You can search for any of these in Wikipedia and get a nice overview.

It’s explained on a terrific website I found during my research, called Making Sense of Maths. It describes how mathematicians view the Golden Ratio’s line pattern embodied in the spiral within the the nautilus shell. It continues, “When we see the wonders of nature through the eyes of pattern,  Mathematics makes sense!”

Now, I’m definitely no mathematician. In fact, when I work with complex math or finances I have the greatest sense of what it’s like for a non-reader encountering print. So using a common element in nature to make a mathematical concept clear sure works for me.

I definitely get the concept of patterns, though. As my five-year-old is introduced to numbers, patterns is one of the first things she’s started learning.

People are naturally drawn to patterns in things around them, including information. Thus it’s a hugely useful tool for writers wanting to help readers navigate longer pieces. The more we can introduce verbal or visual patterns, the easier a reader can grasp relationships and ‘digest’ meaning.

shell_fr_msAnd, I strongly relate to any concept that puts some logic to something as profound as the beauty of nature. To the left here is a royalty-free photo that shows an example, but a Google Images search for “Fibonacci spiral in nature” does much more justice to how far-reaching a concept it is.

Another idea inherent in the Golden Number is Infinity, through the infinite spiral and its mathematical equivalent, which are often related to the notion of pure, zenlike simplicity. (For more, read Chapter One of The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kaballah, and the Search for Infinity published on the Washington Post site.)

I’m thinking all of these ideas harmonize nicely with a brand that promotes clarity, ease-of-use, and a natural flow of things.

Hence the shell thingie.


(Credit is due to Clover, who created the original icon when she redesigned our website, and introduced me to the Golden Number concept.)

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