Friday, April 17, 2015

Plain Style: For Dummies

The article I will be critiquing is an article on the “For Dummies” website. The “For Dummies” books are often used to help people learn and do things through simple directions. On their website, describes the site/ books as, “bringing the how-to brand you know and trust online, where you'll find our proven experts presenting even the most complex subjects in plain English... you can trust to tell it like it is, without all the technical jargon.” The site pledges to avoid unnecessary “jargon” and attempts to make the writing as simple as possible. It is for general public and teaching people about various subjects. The one I chose was “Checking Your Car’s Air Filter” because I know absolutely nothing about cars and how they work.
The word choice of the article is fairly simple and does not have a large amount of jargon. The readability level is slightly over the reading level of the average American being that it is at 9.5, while the average American reads at a 7th grade reading level. It has a Flesch- Kincaid Reading Ease of 69.3. While this is not super easy, it is by some standards still plain style. Conveniently, the article also includes pictures, which would probably lower its reading level if they could be calculated.

There were also “Tips” to help you out along the way and bolded words to highlight important sections.

To see whether your air filter needs to be replaced, just lift it out (it isn't fastened down) and hold it up to the sun or to a strong light. Can you see the light streaming through it? If not, try dropping it lightly, bottom side down, on a hard surface. Doing so should jar some dirt loose. (Don't blow through the filter — you can foul it up that way.) If the filter is still too dirty to see through after you've dropped it a few times, you need a new one.

The article definitely contains elements of plain style. Examples and figures are both elements of the plain style. There are about 24 words per sentence and simple verb forms. For example, one sentence from the article explains, “If you unscrew the wing nut on the lid of your air cleaner and undo any other devices that hold it down, you'll find the air filter inside.”  Both “find” and “undo” a fairly simple verb forms. The subject (you), verb (wing nut), and object (the lid) are also close together. The largest words used in the article are fairly common words such as “permanent” and “extract.” The rest of the words used such as “lid” “old” and “air” are very common words and the ones only needed to understand this article fully.
While the article was fairly simple, there were some parts that were difficult to understand. In particular one part stated, “But you have to remove the air cleaner to view and access a carburetor or other stuff under the cleaner.” I found “other stuff” to be a very vague phrase and “carburetor” to be confusing. While “other stuff” suggests use of the plain style, being that the word choice is simple and excludes unknown car parts, mentioning a “carburetor” brings in more of an official style. In ways this sentence embodies the official style and the plain style, creating a puzzling situation.
            The rest of the final paragraph doesn’t get much better. As the article goes on to teach the reader how to remove their entire air cleaner it says,
“To do so, just unscrew the wing nut and other hold-down devices as though you were going to replace the air filter, and then lift the entire air cleaner up and off. If it refuses to budge, look for additional clamps or screws that may be holding it in place. If you have to disconnect any hoses in order to free the air cleaner, just disconnect the ends that connect to the air cleaner, and make sure that you remember exactly where they were attached. (If more than one hose is involved, draw a sketch before you detach anything.)”
The paragraph is very confusing and unclear. By using the plain style in this article, they simplified the process too much. Cars and other automobiles are not simple for a lot of people, hence why jobs such as mechanics exist. I’m not a mechanic, but to me, attempting to “lift the entire air cleaner up and off” of your car without knowing what you are doing sounds like a bad idea. While a picture of the original air filter was shown, there were no pictures or extra guidance suggested for this part of the process. This brings further discussion on whether or not, “plain style” is always the “best” style.
            While plain style does make things easier to read, sometimes it simplifies material too much or is difficult to achieve. Generally, the For Dummies books do a decent job presenting the plain style, however, in cases such as these, clearly it is not always easy. Some subjects are simply not easy enough to simplify, unless an individual has some prior knowledge on the subject. This makes it difficult to incorporate the plain style into a style for everyone, which the plain style attempts to do.
            Clearly, the plain style is not always the best style. While the official style is more difficult to understand, not everything can be simplified so plainly. Certain subjects and materials require the audience to have some background knowledge. It is hard to make a book on every subject for everyone. People are all different and have different backgrounds and experiences. This makes it nearly impossible for there to be a plain style that pertains to everyone and makes the “plain style” claim of For Dummies questionable. However, generally, For Dummies does a decent job pertaining to a nearly impossible audience. When your audience is the general public, it is hard to write to such a wide variety of people.
Alyssa Baldwin

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