But I digress. One positive from my recent electronic housecleaning emerged in the form of a blog I'd stumbled across in June. It is called "Writing, Clear and Simple," and you can find it at http://rmjacobsen.squarespace.com. Back in June, I'd come across an entry titled, "Plain English: Why don't more people use it?" and thought this was a good topic to raise with the ES audience.
Here at the trade publication delta, where the rivers of language and technical information meet, we are constantly aware of trying to serve up the engineering in an accurate way while serving the reader's natural preferences, too. Sometimes, important information is simply going to come off kind of dry and, occasionally, not the easiest to read.
However, it doesn't always have to be that way. What we - here at the magazine and in the industry at large - can always do better is write in a more straightforward, less beaurocratic way. Even getting rid of the passive tense wherever possible would make things easier to read, less prone to confusion, and shorter in length - all noble goals.
In that June entry I mentioned, Jacobsen wrote:
Are you stuck in a rut of using jargon or corporate speak because ‘that's how it's done here,' or because those are the types of documents you inherit? Don't let inertia hold you back anymore. Start doing something now, today, to create Plain English communication for your audiences."
I think designers have a hard time avoiding the passive tense since many inherited documents rely on the passive , and also since the very nature of these documents nudges the writer in that direction. After all, the writer is instructing about a task, to be done in the future, in some other place, by somebody else. A lot stands between that moment and the action itself. But you can make the whole enterprise more immediate and personal, to both writer and reader, by trading in phrases like "The sensor may be installed ..." for "Install the sensor ...."
In specifications or any other kind of guidance, turn that verb around to active tense whenever you can. It's a seemingly minor change, but it subtly reinforces the notions of accountability and respect for others' time. You will notice the difference. We'll be doing more of it in these pages in the future, and I think you'll notice it here, too. On or off the job, life is too short to deal with needlessly complicated writing.
LAST CALL FOR FALL!Have you registered to join us for the Fall 2006 Building Automation Conference yet? Everything is coming together for a valuable two days in San Diego. Wondering about who's speaking this time around?
Well, there's longtime columnist Rebecca Ellis, who brings her commissioning and controls expertise once again. We're also fortunate to bring you Jim Young, cofounder and producer of Realcomm, a major global conference on technology and commercial real estate. Young brings a wealth of expertise and vision to any audience.
Mark T. Jewell of RealWinWin, Inc., will participate; his firm represents more than 700 million sq ft of building floorspace, and Jewell worked with the EPA to help create the Energy Star Buildings Program for Commercial Real Estate, so he knows his way around reducing energy expenses. Bruce Myatt, P.E. of EYP Mission Critical Facilities is on board, too; his firm has contributed multiple articles to ES over the years.
Looks like I'm out of space, but that's just the start of multiple panels of industry experts lined up to not only present but exchange thoughts with attendees, spearheaded by our friend Paul Ehrlich, P.E. of the Building Intelligence Group. And you may still have time to register for the free intelligent buildings tour of One America Plaza. Drop by www.esmagazine.com to check out the conference page and reserve your space.
ES Building Automation Conference
September 12-13, 2006
For info, visit www.bnpevents.com/ES/BAC/.
Need To Know: Owners' Commissioning & TAB Seminar
October 13, 2006
For info, visit www.esmagazine.com.