Read the following paragraph about an education project and attempt to explain to the person next to you what the heck it means: “The program will focus on project-based learning that supports elementary, secondary and university teachers co-designing and implementing cross-curricular learning tasks and appropriate evaluation tools. Areas of focus include enhanced student learning, building teacher capacity, utilizing innovative practices, connecting with the community, and deepening the learning network.”
I received the email and that paragraph, the crucial passage designed to describe what the program is all about, is essentially indecipherable.
It was the latest in a long list of government bafflegab in which PR people apparently feel the need to use and abuse buzzwords, stretch convoluted sentences to the extreme and insert every hard-to-understand piece of jargon they can find to justify the press releases they send out.
It is maddening, frustrating and irritating — and the above paragraph that arrived in my email inbox this week pushed me over the edge.
I read it. I read it again. I read it a third time.
I printed it out and asked some co-workers to read it.
They had to do so two or three times before coming to the understanding they did not understand what it was the author was trying to tell us.
So, I emailed the sender, a member of B.C. Government Caucus Communications, and asked if he could boil that paragraph down into a simplified explanation even my cat could understand.
He replied, noting that hideous paragraph housing that obnoxious collection of confusion was actually written by someone at a school in Kamloops and was sent to the Ministry of Education as part of the project proposal.
The communications guy sent me some ministry background, but conceded “it’s also pretty dense.”
Such jargon-filled paragraphs are apparently enough of a problem that both the federal and provincial governments have plain-writing guides for their employees.
British Columbia has a plain-language web page that advises its employees to write in simple terms. It advises to “cut unnecessary words, avoid jargon whenever possible by using everyday language, use words that are clear and commonly used by the audience and use concrete language with terms familiar to everyday people.”
Other governments have actually passed legislation, mandating their employees to use plain language.
Five years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which calls for plain language in every government document issued to the public.
The web site has some excellent examples of how one can clean up a message.
Here’s hoping the next government-related paragraph that lands in my inbox is rinsed clean of verbose buzzwords that do little but obscure the message.