Which Version of Language – Slang or Formal?

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During a discussion at the Magazine Training International editing course in 2018 in Nairobi, the participants shared their thoughts on whether articles should be edited in classic Swahili (such as would be found in textbooks), or whether slang should be allowed in magazines.

The instructors for the course didn’t weigh in on which version of Swahili to use, rather, we agreed that it all depends on the expectations of the audience. And this discussion applies to any language, not just Swahili.

The key to magazine publication is focusing energy on reaching a particular audience. So, a magazine in Swahili for teens might include language that is accessible to teens and have words and expressions that would sound normal in the school lunchroom. However, a magazine that is focused on Christian leaders will have different word choices and communication standards, acceptable to their audience.

With the focus on magazine audience, there isn’t a right or wrong answer on word choice and phrases, but rather an ear for what the reader expects and considers correct and meaningful.

Also, it is helpful for the magazine team to define the language standards that they will use, and even give examples in a communication standards document. This documentation is important for both the writers and the editors, so there is consistency in language use. Otherwise, the team might go through unnecessary revisions, as one editor “corrects” phrases away from slang, and another accepts some slang as appropriate for the audience.

Beyond formality of language, magazines will often define the educational level that they are writing for in their target audience. For example, does the average reader have a high school diploma? Or is a reading level of 8thgrade more appropriate for the audience? Or college level? Again, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this – but the complexity of sentence structure and word choice will vary depending on the target audience.

Microsoft Word software has a feature that gives the reading level for text. [Under Review, Proofing – select “Show readability statistics” – then once you review a document (and correct or ignore all errors) the readability statistics will display.] This blog shows an 11.6 grade level, close to a high school graduate.

The reason to consider language formality and structure is that you want your average magazine reader to easily connect with the articles in your magazine. Writing specifically for your reader will engage the reader and make them want to read your magazine.

By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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