The Bandera Courier
Bandera Courier
Thursday December 14, 2017
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2016-02-11

Using simple words

Carolyn B. Edwards

You might be surprised by how often we get an email from someone who wants to share their creative writing skills with us in a weekly column. The usual response is “send us seven columns and we’ll see.” We never get those seven columns.
Because, you know, it’s not as easy as it looks to crank out this top quality prose week after week after week. Fifty-two weeks a year for over 20 years, pretty much non-stop – that’s how long I’ve been doing it.
A lot of our writers with a dream also fail to realize newspaper writers generally aim for about a fourth grade reading level. Not as an insult to the intellect of our readers, but it’s a level that reaches a very broad spectrum of reading abilities. Much of our job has to do with taking something that happened and explaining it in a way that nearly everyone who reads about it will understand.
I was delighted last week when someone thanked me for my BCRAGD stories. She said she always felt like she could understand the issues better after reading my articles. (Mr. Berger at BMA politely disagrees.)
Using simple words is the aim of writer Randall Munroe, author of the book “Thing Explainer – Complicated Stuff in Simple Words.”
Munroe uses simple words and cleverly done cartoon drawings to explain some of the more complicated things in this world.
The book begins with a detailed description of the Shared Space House, aka the International Space Station. All those technical terms for the station’s various parts become understandable when Munroe talks about “stuff carriers,” “people carriers,” and “space boats.”
Don’t understand plate tectonics? Munroe’s sketch of cool rock going away under a scrunched up land floor makes it much easier to understand.
Munroe began writing his book by determining the one thousand most used words in English and using only those common words. He includes the list at the end of the book. It contains mostly one and two syllable words, with a scattering of three or four syllables, like “somebody,” “information,” and “whatever.” Fourth grade.
Working through the book, the reader will become familiar with cell biology, geology, evolution, ways of counting, medical terms and weather.
I loved his explanation (Oops! Four syllables!) of a basic cell. Sheer poetry.
Sit down with your kid and enjoy all the life to be found in a tree – from “head-hitting bird” to “loud jumpers.” Keep it simple.
And then enjoy a laugh at Munroe’s webcomic xkcd.