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Archive | Plain English writing

Seeing names: the fascinating world of synaesthesia

I’m terrible at remembering people’s names. I’m well aware of this deficiency and over the years I’ve made a conscious effort to address it, admittedly with limited success. As Dale Carnegie once observed, ‘A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’ For Carnegie this was simply good […]

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A New Year’s resolution on hedging

As 2020 draws near, I think about what I did this time last year, when I said things such as ‘I reckon I’ll exercise more’, ‘Maybe I’ll join the gym’. Hang on. ‘I reckon’? ‘Maybe’? What’s that? That’s hedging – choosing language to make room for alternative possibilities, expressing something indirectly or expressing our level […]

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Four writing styles and when to use them

If you were to read the instructions for operating a nuclear reactor, you would expect it to be written very differently to a novel about a nuclear accident, or a newspaper editorial about the merits (or otherwise) of nuclear power. Broadly speaking, there are four different styles of writing: expository, descriptive, persuasive and narrative. The […]

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Where words go when they die

The current online version of the Macquarie Dictionary lists 138,000 words and 210,000 different definitions. According to an online survey of 2 million (admittedly self-selected) people, the average adult has a vocabulary of 20,000–35,000 words. Which begs the question, what happens with the rest? Some words are part of industry jargon or have a technical […]

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Is English becoming toxic?

Despite a global push for the use of plain English to boost reader understanding and accessibility, recent language trends and buzzwords suggest that English is actually becoming less accessible for the average user. The desire to be avant-garde, politically correct (i.e. inclusive and inoffensive) or earnestly non-committal (particularly popular in the political arena) is seeing […]

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The real magic of a letter to Santa

As Christmas carols fill the air everywhere from shopping centres to temporary stages on local football fields, those of us who celebrate Christmas are busy planning and carrying out our festive season traditions. The tradition of children writing a letter to Santa Claus dates back more than 150 years and, perhaps surprisingly, is still going […]

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The genius of George Orwell

Back when I was a university student contemplating a topic for my English Literature Honours thesis, I thought it might be interesting to examine the early works of George Orwell, one of my favourite writers at the time. After twelve months of immersing myself in biographies, literacy criticism, opinion pieces and pretty much the entire […]

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