All posts by tclark26

Don’t Let Plain Language Get the Best of You

This article does not attempt to expose biases, unfairness, or deceptions associated with language in political campaigns, polls, or ballots. Unfairness is both legal and customary in campaign and ballot language. This article does examine an interesting use of plain language.

The Fall 2012 Elections in Georgia put many voters in conflict with their own opinions. In the Metro Atlanta counties, we were trying to wrap our heads around the Traffic Referendum, but there was also a charter school amendment up for vote. Previously, the Georgia Supreme Court decided that the state commission responsible for the approval of new charter schools was unconstitutional because the commission overrode local school boards and governments. Voters were to decide whether or not the state should be allowed to approve new charter charter schools. The language of the ballot and the polls that preceded the ballot was so plain in this case that the ballot question failed to communicate the implication of a “yes” or “no” vote.

The ballot question:

“Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

YES! Of course! But what does that mean?

To vote yes meant that voters, whether or not they knew it, would disagree with the Georgia Supreme Court ruling and permit the state commission in question to continue approving new charter schools despite local disapproval. To vote “no,” voters would agree with the court decision and give their local school boards more voice in the approval process of new charter schools. Voting “no” did not, however, mean an end to charter schools. The language of the ballot question made it seem that way, so that anyone who would call themselves proponents of education or progressive education laws would likely vote “yes.” In this scenario, the plainness of the language served more as a “primer” for a vote rather than an effort to clarify the meaning of a legislative proposal to the general public.

To quote Wayne Washington of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Opponents say the wording falsely implies that local boards and the state can’t already approve charter applications. Roberts said supporters wanted to make sure voters knew the commission would not diminish local boards’ authority.”

If we reword the ballot question, the language can create an entirely different effect on the reader:

“Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended so as to decrease funding for local public schools and allocate more for new charter schools?”

This phrasing is just as plain and it concerns the same legislation, but it suggests for voters to vote “no” and disagree with the legislation. This phrasing and the original are quite biased and pointed, but they share the same dangerous quality—plainness.

After seeing how the plain language in this ballot question worked, we can conclude that it served not to clarify, but to obscure something from the readers/users of the ballot. Whether you voted “yes” or “no” for this amendment, you should be able to recognize how this use of plain language deviated from our understanding of plain language as something that should help people of different literacy levels understand government policy.

Even though the federal law concerning plain language requires that “[our regulatory system] must ensure that regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand,” we are still subject to deviations in language where this law holds no sway, such as ballot questions in state elections.

Thomas Clark, a Statement of Interest

I, Thomas Clark, would like to work on either the Whitefoord Community, or the Moving in the Spirit project. I think I may serve the project best as Creative Designer because I have an obsessive attention to detail. I typically spend a great deal of time trying to work out the details in the overall appearance of any multimodal project I work on. I’ll also spend time picking through the language of the copy to make sure we have a cohesive and unified text. I’d say I’m pretty good at dissecting the details, whether it be my words or another’s, but really it’s more of a compulsion. I’ll notice something and feel the need to change it until it sounds/looks/works just right.

The reason I’ve chosen Creative Designer is that I feel confident in my abilities to use certain programs with which I’m familiar, but also to learn something new. I’d also like to hone my designing skills.

As a team member I’m excellent at starting and working on the project on my own. I also know the importance of collaborating as well as helping others for our common goal.

As Creative Designer I would oversee the document’s design and how it works as a whole. I’m confident in my capacity to work with others to agree on how the document should ultimately look/work, and I’d also like to help in the writing process. To, me this position would involve a fair amount of editing and working out the details of the design but I also understand that I will need to work directly with others to make the document meet our goal.

Showing Off or Showing Your Stuff

Graphic designers, musicians for hire, artists, freelancers, and creative-types of all sorts are creating visually appealing nontraditional résumés that make great impressions on list sites and magazine articles, but how well do they perform as tools for landing a great job? Some of these graphic designers need a creative résumé just to get noticed, but some of the other types of nontraditional résumés out there might be too cute for their own good.

Employers may take a look at a nontraditional  résumé and deem the applicant creative, but not ideal for the job. Some employers may even think that the applicant may expect a higher wage than they want to pay.

There has to be an acceptable situation for submitting an artistic and creative résumé. For example, an applicant who wants to use a custom-made nontraditional résumé may find a better audience at a convention or conference where they might meet employers in person before submitting their résumés as opposed to more conventional submission such as mail or electronic submission.

I found this interesting résumé which fits in a pants pocket, is comprised of multiple, visually appealing pages. Its a creative fascicle résumé of sorts.

This individual could pass out this résumé at a conference or convention and enjoy the advantage of an informal meeting as well as seeing a potential employer’s immediate interest upon flipping through this résumé/mini portfolio.

A highly creative, nontraditional résumé might not work so successfully if employers perceive the document as self-important. Employers may be looking for a good team member instead of an all-star and if a highly talented individual crosses the line between professionalism and showing off, his or her résumé could prove  a disadvantage.

I found this interesting ‘prezume’ which uses Prezi’s storytelling qualities to communicate this woman’s value, experience, skills, interests, and goals without appearing self-praising. She uses terse and concise language to articulate her value but also uses a video, photographs, and slides dedicated to showcasing her accomplishments. Her Prezi communicates that she is accomplished, well educated, professional, and creative.


Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The ethical responsibilities of résumé writing or résumé embellishment concern several parties involved in the hiring process, including the employer, the applicants chosen for screening, future applicants, current employees, and the community of people practicing that particular occupation worldwide. Here, I consider two main parties: the employer and the applicant. Employers have the advantage of choice, being able to choose one applicant from any multitude based on qualifications and interview performance, but also the advantage of having something to offer—the job. Employers have the disadvantage of first selecting interviewees based on a verbal résumé. Employers are also subject to being deceived. Applicants, on the other hand, have the advantage of embellishment, using their résumé to withhold or assert certain information, which summons ethical questions. Applicants are also at the disadvantage of not knowing who else is applying for the job, what other applicants’ résumés detail, how the other applicants compare in competency, whether or not the competition is male, female, more male, less female, young, middle-aged, black, white, Hispanic, and so forth. These details affect the competition and applicants must try to gain at an advantage. Applicants have the opportunity to embellish their résumés with assertions and omissions of certain information (Kaplan, Fisher 323). Assertions pertain to claims an applicant may make regarding his or her role in previous organizations. For instance, an applicant may claim leadership over a particular project when they may not have actually been the leader or sole leader. Assertions yield to differing degrees of truth. Omission pertains to a vast range of information that an applicant may not want their potential employer to know or may simply mask something such as gender or ethnicity prior to the face-to-face interview. Sometimes law forbids omission such as failing to list a felony conviction within the past seven years or sex-offender status. Most applicants use omission as a protective device rather than a deceptive device, we can assume with an understanding of omission’s protective nature. This summons us to recognize the difference between protection and deception in résumé embellishment. Is it ethical to hide information from a potential employer? Is it ethical to exaggerate information?

While assertions such as an applicant falsely claiming leadership over a past project may help the said applicant appear well qualified, telling the truth may prove just as effective in the interview or screening process. Informing a potential employer of a lawsuit against oneself or one’s company may negatively affect one’s chances to make it past the screening process. Here, if an applicant omits such information, they may protect their professional impression without shaming their potential employer. Applicants should be honest about information that can and may be verified, but also cautious about how much they embellish. It would be to no one’s advantage to hire the wrong person for the job. The applicant would fail if they were hired and proved disqualified. They would need to resign or wait to be terminated. By the nature of the hiring process though, some would say that embellishment is not merely a strategy but also a necessity. Alexei Marcoux asserts that applicants make choices to embellish two type of information, verifiable and non-verifiable information in their résumés (Marcoux, 183). Marcoux points out that “in the United States…[employers] will verify no more than dates of employment and job titles for prospective employers who contact them seeking background information on a job candidate” (Marcoux, 184).

With those ideas examined, and limits defined, applicants should, and must, embellish their résumés to enhance or even compete with other applicants. Likewise, employers should consider possible embellishments and evaluate them as an applicant’s attempt to conform to their potential employer’s needs and wishes. Since no law requires absolute honesty in assertions of non-verifiable information, applicants should always take advantage of opportunities to enhance their impression on employers. Finally, omission of certain information in a résumé is merely a protective measure to maintain dignity and privacy. Why should an applicant inform a potential employer of something that they were not required to include or disclose?


Kaplan, David, and James Fisher. “A Rose By Any Other Name:     Identity And Impression Management In Résumés.” Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal 21.4 (2009): 319-332. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

Marcoux, A. M. (2006). A counterintuitive argument for résumé embellishment. Journal of    Business Ethics, 63, 183–194.