Language use: act like a baby and treat others like one too

child

Maybe it seems like I am being puerile with the title or going to mention something about always using the lowest common denominator when thinking of your audience. But, not at all; the opposite in fact.

It’s in infancy when we are most open to the possibilities of language as we learn and explore word usage, grammatical syntax etc. If we treated everyone with the same potential as an infant has for language, we would in fact probably write with a lot more originality.

Children like consistency and routines in almost everything and they learn the consistency and routines of language very quickly but when it comes to new words, they show a remarkable aptitude for making things up or soaking up new sounds. And, it seems to me at least, that the adults who emulate children in this respect are the ones who are successful with their writing style. They keep clean and clear grammatical syntax but play with words like there is no tomorrow.

This is why the sticklers for keeping language ‘how it always was’ are so wrong. They treat language like a conformist, rigid, lifeless construct that must be policed so that it stays the same (stays the same as when though? That is the big question). Language and people, of course, have different ideas. No matter how many rules and restrictions people try to apply to language, it keeps evolving anyway. So, are the rules there to be broken or bent? Well, I think that the changes are assimilated by the language culture as a whole, and the culture as a whole by some type of unconscious consensus decides what it likes and doesn’t like.

How does this fit into technical writing? Well, I would not recommend that you create a persona that is a baby (unless you want your colleagues to think you’re nuts). But you could think of the following tips that comes from teaching children language:

  • Do not be afraid to use complex grammatical structures, they will understand.
  • Do not be afraid to use complex words (as long as your consistent with the usage) as they will learn them and understand.
  •  Show a patience in your writing. Take your time explaining. Children are never in a rush and do not understand stress.
  • There is nothing wrong with repetition once in a while, it reinforces a subject.

And now a caveat: if you’re content is being translated you have to think of the money aspect. That means your content needs to be more simplified than what it would be from using the tips above. I hope some day soon that translation will become so effortless that these type of considerations become a thing of the past.

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This entry was posted in Style Guide, Tech writer tips, Usability studies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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