Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

12 Nov 2020, 10:54 a.m.

Plain Language Choices

Pro Publica published a story in a few translations, including plain language, for accessibility reasons. It's interesting to read the default and plain language English versions of the stories, and to reflect on my own sometimes-negative immediate reactions when reading a plain-language piece: are they condescending to me? What are they hiding from me? but also how refreshing it is to see writers explicitly call things "bad".

I tried to write the Sunsetting Python 2 FAQ in very accessible English, because some audiences don't read English very well, or are executives who get scared off by programmer jargon. I saw some reactions that applauded this choice, and some that found that the effect was condescending, scolding, or otherwise offputting. Then, this year, I scripted the video we made about the changes coming to pip, using a somewhat similar plain-language approach -- but it's a video, with smiling people telling you these things, and it's far more about a change than about an ending (specifically "you should give up this thing you are used to"), so it affects the viewer differently.

And of course -- who are the audiences? What should we assume and what should we try to find out first? This connects back to the concision-nuance tradeoff in one-to-many documents which is, like so many other contested spectra, a ground churned over with centuries of thought and argument.

(Pro Publica news via Jason Kottke)