Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Organic Plain Style

Beginners’ guides are everywhere on the internet. They give us the support we need as we venture into an unknown world of a new hobby. For many beginner guides, they try to break things down for you step by step, so that you don’t run into any confusion. The “Urban Garden Magazine,” which has now stopped printing after 3 years due to unexplained circumstances, provided various beginners’ guide style articles about gardening when you have no room to garden. They had a unique situation in which the members of their magazine community could submit and publish articles through the magazine. With names like “Grubbycup,” various members of this gardening community expressed their knowledge on certain topics within gardening.
 Within this magazine we can see a few activity systems at work. The first is the community of gardeners who read this magazine. These gardeners range in skill level from beginner to expert, but come together to share a common interest. Those who read the magazine participate in the shared activity of gardening. Since gardening is very much a science, this community sticks to common guidelines and rules. The magazine acts to inform this community of those guidelines. Furthermore, these gardeners stick to certain types of gardening: hydroponic and urban. Hydroponic simply means gardening by substituting water for soil. Urban gardening is gardening in a small space, which is necessary in large cities when the gardener does not have a backyard.
The next activity system we see deals with the publication itself. As a community produced magazine, the staff allows gardeners who read the magazine to also publish articles. This creates a more intertwined relationship between the publication and the readers. It strengthens the sense of community for the reader, knowing that it is gardeners like them writing and practicing the topics expressed in the publication. However, the magazine seems to have run into conflict with another activity system. While the staff never expresses why the publication was ended, it could not have been from lack of articles or material. New discoveries about better ways to garden are always coming to light, and the community surrounding the magazine seemed to support it full heartedly by leaving many complimenting comments. Whether it was because another system acted to shut it down, or the staff ran out of resources to keep it in print, the magazine ran into problems with some other activity system which caused its demise. While the publication has stopped, the articles still remain on the website for others to use and learn from. In the end, this was the true purpose of the magazine.
The article I will be focusing on, “Beginners’ Corner: Labels and Logs,” focuses on only one specific part of the gardening process. As a beginners’ guide, we would expect to see terms explained and a more plain style of writing. The author of this article does this, but often assumes that you have already read up on some other things such as “ebb and flood trays” and “induc[ing] photoperiod-sensitive flowering.” Such terms usually are not in a person’s everyday common knowledge, unless of course you’re a plant biologist. These terms do not push the article over the edge of the official style, but can make it a bit more difficult when attempting to understand a new concept. 
Aside from the unusual terms and use of slightly more flourishing vocabulary, such as “acquire” and “improving yields,” the author of the article uses some interesting sentence combining strategies. This not only allows him to put more ides into his sentences, but also brings out fluidity within the writing. He is not choppily trying to describe how to label and log your plant data, but instead is entertaining you while informing you about the process. He often uses the method of parentheses when describing certain things in order to give just a little bit more information. 
For example, in the sentence, “Acquire some plant labels, a plant label pen (usually a permanent, waterproof marker), and something to write in...” he gives useful information that while not exactly necessary, would definitely help a beginner with their plant labeling. He uses an appositive again to add in a little bit of data later on in the article in the sentence “Also make sure you list major events...seeds purchased, etc - anything that you might want to refer to so you can make better informed decisions in the future.” This information is, again, not exactly necessary, but might give the reader a little bit more understanding towards what they should be focusing on. 
While the sentence combining is a little bit more complex than your average list of steps, the author is able to keep his overall reading ease grade level around a 10. Generally, things written for the general public are said to be around a 7th grade reading level. The author hits that goal in certain places, but his use of complex terms and longer sentences while explaining details pushes the level up a bit. This higher level may put the content over the heads of the completely new gardener, but for some they may have some background knowledge to clear up his lack of definition for the terms. This leaves it up to the reader to explore the topic in more depth if they did not understand the information right away. Yet, for the beginner who has already learned some of the basics from previous articles, it may not be as difficult to follow. It is clear that the author does keep in mind the audience he is writing for, giving some helpful extra bits of information throughout, and tries to keep it interesting. 
The author uses elements of informal speech, directly addressing the audience by using “you” throughout the article and giving entertaining quips of “Now I’m picturing thousands of you scribbling ‘Not to self: write stuff down’” and “Still not convinced?” This breaking of the wall between author and reader helps greatly to bring the text down to the level of the reader. He does this in an attempt to keep it personal and interesting. Often times he slips into speech that is appropriate when a seasoned gardener is talking with another well-seasoned gardener, but all and all it is clear that he is writing to an audience with only a basic knowledge of gardening. Sometimes it seems that he is writing more as an educated mentor that is guiding the reader gently through the steps. This in one sense could seem slighting condescending, but in another, be very helpful and comforting. It is a fine line which the author seems to tread with certain comments that assume the worst in the reader such as, “in either case, allow me to expand” which brings about a combination of plain style with official by using a word like “expand” when he means explain. 
All in all, the author is able to communicate to the beginners the necessary steps for labeling and keeping logs in a language that most of them will understand. Sure, a few terms might need to be looked into, but that’s true for most hobbies that you’re just starting. Eventually, the beginner will learn enough of the terms that when they look back at the article, everything will make perfect sense. “Grubbycup” is able to keep his informality until the end by signing off with a “peace and happy growing.” They style of writing that he uses allows the reader to feel a sense of community with those who garden and use the articles. The informal sign-off is repeated in many different articles by others on the site, which makes one believe that it is a salutation that is common to this particular community of gardeners. 

-- Rachel Gerlach

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