Can Plain Style Be Too Plain?
The language people use to communicate every day is considered Plain language. This style is easy to understand, strait forward, and uses common vocabulary. The media frequently uses this style to communicate clear and quickly. Instructional outlines and manuals are also typically in Plain language. But, sometimes instructions require some Official style in order to fully explain the concept; thus, there are some situations where Plain language is not enough.
For example, take this “Sliding for Dummies” passage, in which a blogger on the Silverfish Longboarding website explains how to slide downhill on a longboard https://www.silverfishlongboarding.com/forum/technical-skateboard-sliding/147794-sliding-dummies.html:
“Ok so every hour a new How to slide,or can I slide my set up? thread pops up,so before you go and make another dumb thread read through this,also for the ones that know how to slide post your techniques,But remember this is SLIDING FOR DUMMIES so you need to explain with pics,drawings apples, bees or whatever”
This is exactly how the author typed his introduction up. This is definitely an example of Plain language, but did he go too far? I would argue yes. First of all, the grammar! There are multiple missing spaces between words; “pictures” is abbreviated to “pics;” and some unique punctuation is used. Plus, this is “Sliding for Dummies,” in which the reader has very little background in sliding on a longboard while going fast around turns. This needs a major breakdown of steps (with pictures)—however being “dumb” on the subject of sliding does not mean a person is unintelligent or illiterate. The speaker’s writing actually hinders some of the understanding of the subject because the reader sometimes is forced to figure out the poorly written language. There is definitely a difference between plain and poor use of language. However, this is incredibly easy to understand and is written as if this person is talking to the readers face to face.
According to the reading ease calculator, the reading ease for “Sliding for Dummies” is 74.8. This is extremely easy and accessible for anyone in the general public to read and understand. The average grade level I was shocked to find out is actually 8.9! This is above the average reading level of the general public in America, which is the Seventh Grade. True, there is some jargon used later in the description—but it really is only the use of the word “trucks.” However, what the score of the reading level does not tell us is the level of humor and creative writing. This blog has a bunch of humor and creative writing in the form of exclamations points, all caps lock, as well as in the language itself. An example of this is, “you need to explain with pics,drawings apples, bees or whatever” (this also has horrendous comma mistakes). My favorite part of the entire post, and another example of creative style, incorporates language everyone uses on a frequent basis: “and most important,wear your god dam lid and pads!!!” This is great because it is incredibly Plain and incorporates language everyone uses on a frequent basis. Also, “god dam” would not be a term used in a formal piece of writing in the Official style (neither would the word “butt” used later in the post). The humor and variations in text and type causes the reader to be further engaged or annoyed in a way that Plain style and Official style might not grasp. This is a blog, that has an incredibly palpable sense of voice, which I love, but it may use too much exaggeration and poor sentence structure and not enough explanation and organization to teach how to slide on a longboard.
Further dissecting the style, I noticed the format of these instructions was not consistent. The author is in half prose style and half list format while describing the process of sliding. He includes pictures as well. The pictures break up the writing, but it made sense to format it that way, like a caption. So, the first bit is like an introduction, which ends with three list points (the third of which is a continuation of the last sentence in the second list point), and then oddly transitions to many fragmented sentences mixed in with photos and captions. These photos and captions are complete with plenty of arrows and parentheses, further creating a choppy feel to the writing style. There is an incredible lack of structure and organization, and to add to the poorly written sentences. Once reading the passage, readers may understand a tad bit more of the mechanics of how to slide, but may not feel one-hundred percent ready to go to the biggest hill and nail sliding on the turns at full speed. It is highly unlikely anyone would make it to the bottom in one piece! As a longboarder, I do not feel any more comfortable going out and performing the task after reading these instructions. Though the language is incredibly easy, the style does not facilitate the reader in understanding the task being taught. One could end up with a broken collarbone as a result.
Unfortunately, because of the lazy grammar and interesting format, I would say the use of the Official style would benefit the reader and promote credibility. The jargon terms such as “trucks,” “drop-down deck,” and specifics about the bearings or wheels and positioning would better explain the process, instead of making generalizations and not quite describing where to position feet in accordance to the board. The informality and type of language used contributes to the question if this is a reliable source. Especially considering the topic of sliding, where people can break bones, readers need to know that this is the correct way to slide down a hill on a long board. Furthermore, although the pictures are a helpful visual, the quality and setting of the pictures raise some questions. The pictures are taken inside a house that looks awfully run down. Why are the pictures not taken outside? This would mean that the author has actually gone sliding and knows what he is casually describing. The credibility is lacking and due to the gravity of the sphere of activity and context, the communication is not adequate. I feel there should be more Official language used, as well as better pictures in an improved setting. The pictures are great to help give a visual to the description though. This also adds even more to the creative aspects of the piece that is primarily written in sloppy Plain style.
Plain language is great for most audiences and is easy to understand as well as quick to read. But when dealing with instructions and dangerous situations, some Official style should be used to indicate credibility. Also, it would promote the right audience too—people who have long boarded before and know what they are getting into, and want an analysis written with appropriate grammar. Thus, some jargon should be used for specific placement and materials used. Though there are pictures, humor, and diction people use every day, the syntax and format is horrendous and too Plain for my taste. This post on the Silverfish Longboarding website could definitely use a facelift in language—and some apples and bees.