Friday, April 17, 2015

How Plain Style Prevails in the Internet World

In comparison to official style, plain style illustrates a rather simple and more understandable way to convey information, which unarguably helps reach a larger audience. However, to discuss its effectiveness justly, we need to examine plain style from its textual and contextual aspects thoroughly. Therefore, I chose the article “The First Step to Building a Brand Called You” on the Forbes website. It is an article that offers suggestions for employees to build their personal brands in order to attain more confidence in themselves and to achieve career success. The contributor of this article is The Muse, a platform that provides job opportunities and expert advice to nationwide readers. In this sense, the source of the article has certain credibility. It uses a plain style for readers to understand The Muse’s ideas better; at the same time, I think it also loses its effectiveness in conveying the message because of its oversimplification and reduction of the complexity of building up people’s personal brands. The language style makes the content seem simple or easy, when in fact it is complicated.

The whole article is comparatively short—only two pages and the bold font for the subtitles and the usage of ballpoints contribute to a friendly, easy environment for mass audience to read, especially for busy readers. Now I will excerpt the four steps to build one’s personal brand in his/her career as my illustration of its usage of plain style.

1. Determine Your Emotional Appeal

For starters, think broadly about your personality and how it affects the experience someone will have with you. Are you insanely organized? Do people love working with you for your killer sense of humor?

Make a list of words that best describe these features of your personality. These words are known as emotional modifiers. Hint: They can be as simple as Disney’s “fun.”

2. Determine Your Description

Your next step is coming up with a descriptive modifier that brings clarity to the emotional modifier, identifying what or who your brand is for. In Disney’s case, it’s “family.” In Nike’s mantra, “authentic athletic performance,” “authentic” is the emotional appeal, while “athletic” tells you what the brand is for. As an individual, yours might be an industry (“healthcare” or “education”), or it might be a tangible skill (“creative” or “strategic”).

3. Determine Your Function

Lastly, write down what, exactly, you do (or will do). It might be something that directly relates to your career: writing, graphic design, or financial planning, for example. Or, it might be something more broad, like Disney’s “entertainment.” Are you a manager, a creator, an organizer? A connector of people?”

4. Pull It All Together

Finally, look at your three lists of words, and see how you can combine them into a short sentence or phrase—no more than five words. Your brand mantra should communicate clearly who you are, it should be simple and memorable, and it should feel inspiring to you. You might be a “dependable, strategic planner” or “a creative professional connector.” Or, your mantra might be something like, “motivating others to do their best.”

As we can observe from the above, these four steps are well organized in four paragraphs with a larger bold font. These details definitely create an easy reading opportunity for the people who want to grasp the main points at first sight and then have the interest to keep reading. Putting the form aside, let’s look at the content. According to Readability-Score, the four little paragraphs’ flesch-kincaid reading ease is 60, the average grade is 9.4, and words per sentence is 12.2. Its reading ease is quite high and its reading average grade level is low, so that it is easy and understandable for most of the readers. Looking through Step 1 to Step 4, we can discover that the article contributor makes his arguments straight and to the point at the beginning of each paragraph and uses logical words like “for starters,” “your next step,” “lastly,” and “finally” to link each paragraph. He also uses a very conversational tone and adopts the second person point of view in telling the audiences what to do and how to do it. For instance, the writer uses some declarative sentences to make the whole article sound very conversational and daily, like “for starters, think broadly about...” The usage of second person point of view like “look at your three lists of words, and...” makes the article sound more casual, just like you are giving advice to your friends. The usage of these techniques makes the article familiar to the readers and lets them become more than willing to follow and take the advice.

The writer also applies other plain style strategies to make his article more acceptable for the readers. Parallelism is shown in the very beginning sentence in these four steps, putting these equally important suggestions into similar grammatical structure. It helps the readers find the main information immediately and understand it without any difficulties. Also, the usage of Exemplum contributes to the construction of plain style in the article. Although the examples are quite short, they are already what we are familiar with (Disney’s and Nike’s) and are added behind every statement in each step to deepen the reader's’ understanding of how to build their personal brand through these examples.

Knowing the plain style strategies that the writer uses in the article, we also need to know the contextual meaning of why he chose to write like that. As I’ve stated in the intro paragraph, the aim of this article is to help more employees to find out what personalities they have and combine them with their own working positions in order to create more passion, energy, and success in their career. Therefore, the language use should be written in a comparatively plain way, since not every employee has a very high educational level. The Harvard, Yale graduates after all are only a very small proportion in American work force. Thus, it is considerably necessary and important for the writer to use a plainer and easier style to reach more ordinary people who are still confused about their future. However, in my opinion, though this article adopts plain style and is indeed very easy to read and understand, it is not as effective as it should be. Since it is written by a credible platform and posted on Forbes website and since the content is actually more complicated than it appears, it should combine with a little official style to make it more professional and credible.

In my opinion, this article oversimplifies and reduces the complexity of building one’s personal brand and achieving career success. It simply tells the readers that just by combining your emotional appeal, your description and function, and by memorizing your “mantra,” you can build your personal brand. But is that really all it takes? What effect will the “mantra” have, and will it be effective and credible? Or is it just a psychological implication that we can remind ourselves every day? We don’t know, because the article doesn’t tell us. To me, I just take it as a piece of reading entertainment, because it doesn’t tell me how effective the “mantra” will be and to what degree can I trust it.

Nowadays, using plain style in business (and also other areas) articles becomes a new trend and convention. As we are embracing a FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) era, people have a large demand of consuming novel things, and hope the information and technology can be updated as fast as possible. People have less and less patience in waiting. Thus, articles online (no matter in what area) are written in an increasingly plain way in order to attract the readers’ attention. Many writers or contributors make the message appear simple, even though it should be more complicated. While the use of plain style attracts a large group of audience, it can also result in people thinking that something might be too easy or not require a lot of effort when in actuality it might take a lot of work.      

While at the same time, we should consider the intention of writing this article. Forbes is a professional business website, and it publish its magazines twice a month, which indeed needs a lot of new information and articles to fill in the vacancies in its website in order to provide readers with freshness and to keep its activeness. The topic “building up your personal brand” is indeed a hot issue in the modern workplace, but the oversimplification and reduction of its actual practicability and operability make its content questionable. Furthermore, Forbes’ speed of updating posts is striking: thirteen posts are created within one hour on its website when I randomly look through its homepage. These phenomenons inevitably lead us to consider its intention. By scratching these ideas in a quite general way, it seems that Forbes is just generating this content only to meet the readers’ expectation of solving problems easily. In my opinion, though people have the need of receiving information fast and of reading plain text, the writer and the website should still have the responsibility to ensure the effectiveness and credibility through using their language. The writer can use a little bit of official and professional style and add more details of its effectiveness in what kind of situation and to what kind of profession. In this way, it can at least make sure that the article won’t mislead the vast audience that the way to build up personal brand and the benefits it will bring are as easy as it tells in the content.

Lingyuan Xiong

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