March 11, 2010

Do you have the confidence to be clear?

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For about a month, I had been hearing from one reader or another that they couldn't access this blog due to a malware warning. The IT people I talked to suggested that the problem might be on the users' computers or that there was actually a bad link on my blog.

I was tearing out my hair over how to resolve this, and the following Google diagnostics page did nothing to help. It was sent to me by two people, and also came up when I searched for the offending link online. What do you think of this as a helpful tool to someone with malware on their site? Click on it to view full size. I'll wait while you read it.

Now that you've read this, and providing that you're not a software developer or someone other than the typical user of a computer and the Web, what did you think?

Here's what I thought: Google is telling me that is a malicious site. Now what? Did I need to be told the same thing in 20 different ways, none of which make sense to me? Because that's what it seemed like when I read this document.

However, here's what was missing for me.

1. What does this actually MEAN? It took me forever to figure out, on my own, that this was the name of an actual link (a little banner, actually) that was right on the front page of my blog. That would have been helpful information. I put it there so long ago that I had forgotten about it and the link was unfamiliar to me.

2. What do I DO about it? Once I finally found the link, I was smart enough to figure out that I should delete the banner. But am I supposed to report something? Do something else? Is that good enough?

I'm a big proponent of the plain language movement, a movement that seeks to make communication from government, medical, engineering, legal, science and other fields easier for the average person to understand.

Here's an example of a Medicare fraud letter before plain language and after:


Investigators at the contractor will review the facts in your case and decide the most appropriate course of action. The first step taken with most Medicare health care providers is to reeducate them about Medicare regulations and policies. If the practice continues, the contractor may conduct special audits of the providers medical records. Often, the contractor recovers overpayments to health care providers this way. If there is sufficient evidence to show that the provider is consistently violating Medicare policies, the contractor will document the violations and ask the Office of the Inspector General to prosecute the case. This can lead to expulsion from the Medicare program, civil monetary penalties, and imprisonment.


We will take two steps to look at this matter: We will find out if it was an error or fraud.

We will let you know the result.

Why make something more complicated than it needs to be? Why not make your message as clear and easy to understand as possible?

Speakers fear "dumbing down" their message and insulting their audience, but there's a difference between "dumb" and "understandable." And then there are the speakers who need their audiences to think they're brilliant, and that using big words and complex language will seal the deal.

This is just my opinion, but sometimes I think that the bigger words you use and the more you obfuscate (uh, muddle) your message, the more insecure you appear.

I heard this from several audience members recently who heard a famous politician speak. They felt that his language was confusing for many reasons, none of them positive. He was insecure, he wanted to confuse people on purpose, he wanted to appear smarter than the audience, etc. One gave him the benefit of the doubt and suggested that he really didn't realize his language was so convoluted.

Whatever the reason, it is not impressive to the audience when you use such complex language that they cannot understand you. There's no benefit to you or to them.

So get on board with plain language and see if you can make your complex ideas easier for your audience to understand. If they can understand, they can take action. And isn't that what we all want?

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