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Re: Action Item: 3.3 Proposal (Writing Style)

From: Anne Pemberton <apembert@erols.com>
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 18:22:31 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>, w3c-wai-gl@w3.org

	I understand your point, but the other side of the coin burns. A few weeks
ago I was in a heated discussion with a webmaster of a government services
site. He maintained that his web site is "accessible" even tho the audience
of the web site is unemployed disabled persons who have graduated high
school or have a strong chance to do so. The site is written at a 12th
grade reading level, which is way too high for the audience. The site of
course is devoid of any illustrations, mark-up, or any reading aids. Yet,
the site is, by guidelines 1.0 P1, "accessible" ... 

	Don't throw out the checkpoint. It is very, very necessary, even if it
takes a lot of words to make room for the valid exceptions you make. No, we
don't want a website to re-write the constitution (your suggestion for
annotations, definitions, and readable companion text is exactly what
textbooks do in elementary school... in high school they just put the
original text in the back reference, and put the readable words in the text.

	Having looked at a number of federal and state government sites which
supposedly communicate with the voters and service users, I am all to aware
that most are as effective as if written in a foreign language! The
guidelines need to address this problem, even if it isn't the easiet one to
tackle. Government agencies are the first to be affected by the "have to"
legislation, and they are the ones who need this checkpoint (and those
requiring illustrations) the most. 


At 03:51 PM 3/12/01 +0100, Kynn Bartlett wrote:
>Here's the last of my three action items (apart from one from the
>server-side techniques list) -- which was originally to "deconstruct"
>the "clear, simple writing" checkpoint.  The problem is that I ended
>up concluding that we don't want to have any sort of general rule
>about this, and so my proposal is:  Eliminate the checkpoint.
>Read on for more:
>Action Item:  Deconstruct 3.3
>3.3  Write clearly and simply.
>      This checkpoint addresses the need to facilitate comprehension 
>of the content
>      by all readers, especially those with cognitive disabilities. It 
>should not
>      be interpreted as discouraging the expression of complex or 
>technical ideas.
>      However, authors should strive for clarity and simplicity in 
>their writing.
>Okay, let's look at what this checkpoint is trying to say.
>* You shouldn't write in an overly obfuscated manner, if at all possible.
>* This will have benefits for people who have lower reading levels, for
>   whatever reason (cognitive disabilities, lack of education, lack of
>   language skills, youth, etc.)
>* This also has benefits for translation purposes; it's easier to translate
>   a straightforward writing style than an idiosyncratic style.
>* The checkpoint as written explicitly recognize that there are "exceptions"
>   for technical writing.
>The problems with this checkpoint:
>* It's uncheckable since it sets no specific metrics to know if you have
>   adequately met the checkpoint's requirements.
>* No sense is given of the _audience_ of the content; content written for
>   a specific audience (say, lawyers) can (and should) be more complex than
>   information written for a "general audience."  (However, often web
>   content providers may underestimate the diversity of their audiences.)
>* There is no exception for specific content that -must- be written in
>   certain "complex" formats, such as:
>   - Transcripts of speeches:  you should not rewrite what the President
>     says just because you are putting the speech on the web
>   - Legal documents:  you should not rewrite legal language merely
>     because you are placing it on the web
>   - Literature:  you can't rewrite shakespeare just because you are
>     putting a version on the web
>   - <!-- other examples are possible -->
>* As well, there are a number of content types which specifically
>   should not be forced into a "simple style", such as:
>   - Rhetoric and opinion pieces:  I'm thinking here of things such as
>     sarcasm, parody, and satire
>   - Riddles, jokes, and puns:  explaining the joke often ruins the
>     humor value
>   - Poetry and creative writing:  some works of writing are specifically
>     meant to not be "easily understood" and the meaning must be inferred
>   - <!-- other examples are possible -->
>So, this checkpoint is problematic as written.
>Suggestion:  Remove the checkpoint entirely
>This is based on the idea that while we can tell people how to present
>content, we shouldn't be telling them what kinds of content to present.
>Saying that text content must be written in a specific manner goes
>beyond simply stating requirements for how to convey something in the
>web medium; it demands fundamental changes to the content itself on
>the expressive level.
>(I maintain that...) There is no good way to craft a "write well"
>checkpoint that is checkable, audience centric, and universally applicable.
>Inclusion of a vague checkpoint of this nature serves to weaken the
>guidelines and confuse the issue of accessibility.
>Rather than requiring textual rewriting, we should concentrate on how
>the specific features of the web medium can be used to enhance text
>which is confusing -- for example, by suggesting links to a glossary,
>annotation, or simpler explanation be added, as done in 3.5, 3.6, and
>Here's an example.  If you are placing the Constitution of the United
>States online, you would not make it "more accessible" by rewriting it
>in contemporary, simple language.  Rather, you would provide the
>text as is, but add, for example, sidebar links, glossary terms, and
>most likely some simple explanations for complex information.  But you
>would _not_ rewrite the original text.  The checkpoint as written
>implies that you _should_ and thus it is defective.  Instead we need
>to concentrate on suggesting that users _supplement_ their text when
>appropriate (and even _that_ is very hard to make checkable, isn't
>Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Anne Pemberton

Received on Monday, 12 March 2001 18:46:54 UTC

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