Wiping out wordiness part two – writing with an audience in mind
When explaining what we do, interpreters are often most confused with translators. Interpretation is not about translating languages. But sometimes it is. Perhaps not translating foreign languages into English, but sometimes it’s turning technical talk into Plain English. Turning something from science-speak into something that speaks to non-scientists.
One of my most successful pieces of writing was a ghost-written piece. I was at a staff meeting when one of the planners was talking about an opinion piece he had just read in the newspaper. The article said that a local lake was dead, beyond saving.
He was incensed, fired-up and explained to us all how planning could turn the tide. He spoke so passionately, I was prompted to pick up my pen and take notes. At the end of the meeting I convinced him to write a rebuttal. But when it turned up on my desk to check and edit, it was dry, passionless and a list of facts. It was planner-speak.
So I threw it aside and got out my notes. I wrote the piece using his own words, but the words that he had spoken when he had a real audience of non-planners. When I showed it to him, he said “that’s exactly what I wanted to say!” My reply was of course, “It’s exactly what you said.” The piece was published and the very next day he had phone calls from senior managers from other agencies wanting to meet and work with him. The piece prompted others to action and a partnership was born.
Successful interpretation is written with your audience in mind.
So often we see interpretation that has been written for the organisation, not the visitor.
Technical language and large quantities of information crammed onto a sign or brochure may gratify managers, but do little to interest or excite the public.
If it’s hard to think of your audience, imagine you are talking to friends in the pub. How would you explain it them? How would you get them to understand and make connections?
Don’t let your fondness for facts get in the way of your passion.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. We’ve researched the topic extensively; we’ve gathered information we are interested and committed to sharing it. We think everyone should know what we know. It’s hard to know what to edit out because it’s all important.
But include too much information and nothing will get noticed. Good interpretation offers a taste and sparks a desire to know more. Remember back to when you first started – what started you on this journey of discovery? Was it a cold hard fact? Or was it an idea that prompted an emotional response?
Use simple words that everyone knows. Don’t think of it as “dumbing it down”. It’s more like “keeping it real”.
When we talk to our peers, we often use a unique language, jargon, created by common understanding. Planner-speak; scientist-speak; etc. But we forget that it may have taken us years to get to the point where we have built up our jargon dictionary and understand complicated processes and concepts.
Windy phrases like those in the table create distance, not connection, between the reader and the content. Edit, edit, then edit again. Replace large words with smaller ones. Remove words and then test it still makes sense. Tell a story with emotion and drama, not a bullet-point list. Utilise – I mean use – the list below to help you.
I’d love to hear about your own ‘translation’ stories – feel free to share!
Replace these words with short/simple ones
Replace these phrases with one word
|Proliferation||Large amount||On two occasions||twice|
|discussions||talks||Along the lines of||like|
|distinguish||tell||The reason for||because|
|Methodology||method||Due to the fact that||because|
|Approximately||about||Despite the fact that||although|
|Commence||start||At this point in time||now|
|Implement||Apply||In view of the fact that||as|
|Utilise||use||In connection with||about|
|Purchase||buy||In addition to the above||also|
|Remuneration||pay||In the course of||during|
|Endeavour||try||It is requested that||please|
|Facilitate||help||Are in a position to||can|
|Eventuate||happen||A number of||Few, several|
|Render||make||A large number of||many|
|Accordingly||so||As a means of||to|
|Utilisation||use||On behalf of||for|
|Acquire||get||In the event that||if|
|Transmit||send||At an early date||soon|
|Approximately||about||In the vicinity of||near|
|Assistance||Help/aid||Ahead of schedule||early|
|Collaboration||help||At a later date||later|
|Currently||now||Conduct an investigation||investigate|
|Demonstrate||show||A little time ago||recently|
|introduction||start||Destroyed by fire||burned|
|suffice||do||Take into consideration||consider|
|Terminate||end||A majority of||most|
|ascertain||Find out||As already stated||(ditch!)|