Friday, May 10, 2013

Prose Styles & Why They Matter

After an extreme winter season this year in Wisconsin, I found myself wondering what a life in sunny, hot Florida might be like. After doing some web surfing, I realized I would have to prepare for many new changes if I decided to make the move. A friend of mine mentioned that I would have to know what to do in case of a hurricane. After visiting, I noticed the plain language used because of my prose style and editing English class, in which we discuss different types of prose style, their uses, and their effects.
Plain style prose is often used to be more accessible and reach a broader audience. It is supposed to be meant to be clear, concise, and lacking ambiguity. A closer look at the ‘Before a Hurricane’ tips on the government-run website, I found that I was more confused by the time I finished reading, as indicated by the many question marks in my GoogleDoc analysis. The plain style asks the question of “who is kicking whom?” In other words, plain style language should clearly indicate who or what is completing an action. An example is the following tip from the page: “Identify levees and dams in your area and determine whether they pose a hazard to you.” ‘You,’ or in other words, the reader, is the ‘who’ aspect and the action is to ‘identify’ and ‘determine.’ It is simple language. It makes sense. The wording is not ambiguous… or so it seems.
When I started thinking about the activity systems surrounding the context, I started to wonder who exactly would be actively seeking out this information. I was looking it up because I was seriously considering moving to Florida and wanted to be as prepared as possible. Natives of Florida may already know this information because they are used to it and have lived there their whole lives. I feel that they would not be the type who would visit this website. I came to the conclusion that people who would look up this information would be possibly people like me, who are considering moving to a place with hurricanes, or recently moved individuals that need to prepare. I tried to look for ads that would be on the website that may indicate who the audience might be to no avail. Because it is government sponsored, the closest thing to an ad was a box, indicating to sign a pledge showing that you are prepared for any natural disaster.
So, if people who are unfamiliar with what to do in case of a hurricane uses this information, I felt the tips were easy to understand, but the actual implementation of these tips was anything but. The second tip, “Know your surroundings” is extremely vague. Even if you do “know” your surroundings, what action is required? There is an implied action involved that is not stated. I understand that it is good to be aware of your surroundings, but there is no direction as to what to do if you feel your surroundings are dangerous. Another tip states, “Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.” I am capable of many things, but I do not know how I would go about doing this if I lived by myself. “Install a generator” is another tip offered. How would I go about doing this myself? Would I need a professional? Who would I contact? The second-to-last tip was the one that confused me most. It says, “If in a high-rise building, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor.” It directly contradicts the fifth tip that states to “find higher ground.” It confused me because I know that in the midst of a hurricane, you are supposed to be not close to ground level to not be in danger of drowning. I think that high-rise buildings are unstable due to heavy winds, which is why it is recommended to not go up as high as you can in those types of buildings. However, I still don’t understand why you would want to stay at the tenth floor or lower. I understood the goal was to be elevated from the water as much as possible.
These questions obviously require more research, which I don’t think was originally intended when the authors created the webpage. They certainly utilized the plain style in order to reach a broad audience and intended ease for readers. When looked at more critically, it seems as unclear as an official style piece, in terms of implementing these tips. I found it strange as well that it was not offered in Spanish or any other language for that matter. If I, a native-born English speaker, am struggling with these concepts, what about others who do not speak the language? Since it is a government site, I find this very discouraging. After all, America is said to be ‘the melting pot’ of all cultures, and Florida is very diverse especially in bigger cities like Miami.
The problem I have with this website and style of writing is that it is potentially putting lives at stake. The web page provides tips about how to save lives, while disregarding other races and ethnicities, even if it is very subtle. I do not think that this was the direct intention, however, it came across as being exclusive more than it was inclusive, when looked at with a critiqued eye. There is a plethora of natural disaster information elsewhere on the website, but if I do end up moving, I think that I would be better off asking a local what exactly to do in case of a hurricane. Prose style does matter! In this case, it has the potential to save lives if well written.

Madeleine G.

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