Redish Chapter 10: Tuning up Your Sentences

Creating a conversation with visitors does not mean “dumbing down” the information. On the contrary, writing for site visitors means giving them information that is easy to find and use. Personas are a perfect way to make sure your writing is appropriate for the intended audience, and for the various types of visitors a site might attract. Think about the reader as someone looking over your shoulder as you write. Would your sentences and information make sense, or are you alienating or eliminating certain readers through the very words you choose?

Redish tells us to “talk to your site visitors.” I would disagree with this instruction. A conversation is not one-sided, which is implied by the word “to”. Instead, a conversation is with and between two or more parties. Effective writing for the Internet should include the idea of creating a conversation with the visitors, not talking at them. Television and radio programs talk to visitors. We want to engage the visitors, and therefore need to create a dialog that includes the site visitors.

One of the most useful commentaries on plain writing I’ve ever seen is by Dr. Steve Pinker, a professor currently at MIT. He is a Harvard graduate and professor in the field of psychology, with research in the use of language. This video tells us why following traditional style manuals and writing instruction typically taught in a university does not always make us good communicators. In particular, applying conventional writing rules, such as Strunk and White, to current technology does not effectively meet the needs of the visitor. Simple language is not dumbing down, but is actually writing or speaking clearly, and for the audience. His video lecture to technology and science students at MIT is available at: http://video.mit.edu/watch/communicating-science-and-technology-in-the-21st-century-steven-pinker-12644/ . It is worth watching.

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