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BRITARCH  February 2000

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Subject:

Re: plain speech, and distracting pigeons...

From:

"Catherine Petts" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Catherine Petts

Date:

Sat, 19 Feb 2000 09:43:10 GMT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

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Clare Lynn said

'I specifically remember being told at University that many of my essays 
were clear and understandable and covered all the necessary points, but 
'weren't academic enough'. That irritated me then and still does.'


She is not alone in this experience. I recently returned to University to do 
a degree in Archaeology. My first essay was returned with the comments 'Your 
sentences are too short'. I ignored this comment and continued to write 
essays with short sentences.

Before going back to university, I had spent much of my working life turning 
technical jargon into comprehensible English.  It is quite possible to do 
this without watering down the technical content. The main problem is that 
as more and more people are required to write reports of all kinds it 
becomes more and more evident that the majority of them are unable even to 
write competently, let alone well. Unconfident writers take refuge in long 
jargon loaded sentences. Never say spade if you can call it a multi-purpose 
excavation tool!

Excavation reports will always need to have detailed specialist reports. But 
these are frequently incomprehensible, not because of the jargon, but 
because the information is badly organised and badly presented. For example, 
tables are only used if data is numerical (and not always then) yet they can 
be used just as effectively for describing the fabric, decoration and form 
of a collection of pottery.

As one correspondent has already commented, the majority of the subscribers 
to archaeological journals are informed readers rather than experts. More 
importantly they are the people who are paying for the production of the 
journal and it is reasonable that the publication they receive should be 
readable.

I have recently become the editor of a county journal and among other 
things, I am insisting that every article, if not readily comprehensible, 
should have a good extended introduction in accessible English explaining 
what was done, why it was done, what was found and the conclusions reached.

More to the point if this is not done another county journal will bite the 
dust because members are asking why they are paying for a journal that goes 
straight into the bin unread because the contents are incomprehensible.

Catherine Petts


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