plain language

The humble full stop: from plain language to haplography

Caryn Gootkin hopes readers have conquered their fears of the semi-colon after her last column. Today she explains why the humble full stop can become a powerful plain language tool and reveals its many functions. One of the main principles of plain language is to keep your sentences short. This is based on the premise […]

Punctuation (Part 2): The elegant yet often-overlooked semi colon

Caryn Gootkin continues her series on punctuation by demystifying the semi-colon, which has been called the scariest punctuation mark. Semi-colons have a bad reputation; unfairly, I think. The reason may lie in uncertainty about how to use this mark correctly. As there are only two broad uses for the semicolon, I aim to dispel the […]

Punctuation (Part 1): the real story behind the dots and dashes

My seven-year-old has starting learning Hebrew at school. This is the moment I have been waiting for; I have neglected my love affair with the language over the past 20 years since completing my major in 1992. I had forgotten the joy of using a different alphabet, of the light that goes on when you […]

Plain language: The tricky aspects of gender-neutral language

Caryn Gootkin suggests alternatives to gender-specific pronouns that will make your writing more accurate, less offensive and plainer. The principles of plain language suggest that we should use gender-neutral language to avoid offending half our audience. Historically, this was dealt with by using masculine words and pronouns to refer to mankind or where the gender […]

‘With all due respect’ and other unplain language

In Caryn Gootkin’s humble opinion, we should write in plain language and talk in plain speech. Much of the discussion around plain language focuses on the written word and ways to edit your writing to ensure your message is conveyed clearly. But it is just as important to speak plainly if you want your audience […]

The schmendrik’s* guide to recognising (and avoiding) email scams

Caryn Gootkin’s alter ego, the Pedantic Player, advises the greedy and gullible to watch out for email scammers with their too-good-to-be true messages. If you’re anything like Caryn or me, each morning your inbox contains more scam than legitimate messages. Swearing under your breath doesn’t help. Getting angry negatively affects your stress and blood pressure […]

Was Fikile Mbalula ‘mockering’ the ‘crown jewel’ of (our) nation?

When the editor sent Caryn Gootkin a copy of the sports minister’s 25 January statement about Bafana Bafana, a plain language column practically wrote itself. Regular readers of this column will know that I am a plain language pedant. As such, I often give tips on how to write clearly and point out examples of […]

In other words’ (unofficial) guide to writing in plain language

The long walk to plainness: In a way, each column I have written for The Media Online since March has brought me a step closer to writing this plain language guide.  I reinvented myself as a plain language expert, called my business In other words, and began blogging about other people’s writing errors. And so I […]

Just Do It: Use active verbs as part of your plain language regime

Caryn Gootkin marks International Plain Language Day (IPLD – 13 October) with some tips on how to put life back into your writing. Many people think plain language involves little more than using simpler words in shorter sentences. But, this is only one aspect of the style of writing the plain language movement advocates. Also, […]

The rands and sense of plain language: does it pay to write simply?

No matter what the purpose of your writing, be it an email reminder to a colleague, a letter to your neighbour asking her to scoop her dog’s poop or a government policy document, it always pays to write clearly. And, of course, the Consumer Protection Act compels those communicating with consumers to do so in […]