Sunday, June 3, 2018

New Privacy Policies Love Long Complicated Sentences



In my post from May 31  we looked at how the vocabulary in the first two paragraphs of the GDPR explanation “What is Personal Data” was a painfully tortured linguistic mess because of rarefied vocabulary – identifiable, pseydonymised




Let’s do a linguistic audit paragraph 3.
Hint – besides the vocabulary (anonymises, anonymisation) the sentence structure is an ideal example of how not to write if you care about being understood.




(from GDPR)
Personal data that has been rendered anonymous in such a way that the individual is not or no longer identifiable is no longer considered personal data. For data to be truly anonymised, the anonymisation must be irreversible.

I’m pretty sure there is an error in the first multipli–embedded, complex sentence above. So let’s fix that before we go on to look at why there is no reason on earth we should expect most readers to understand it - certainly not the 50% of adults in the US reading at 8th grade and lower.
Personal data that has been rendered anonymous in such a way that the individual is not or [is] no longer identifiable, is no longer considered personal data. For data to be truly anonymised, the anonymisation must be irreversible.

Truth about complex sentences
  • The longer the distance between your initial noun phrase and your verb phrase the tougher the read.
Here's an example (mine):
The boy who was chasing the dog vigorously in pursuit of the neighbor’s cat, that had scampered up the old elm tree without any thought to coming down, to make lunch out of the new nest of sparrows, finally gave up at the corner of Elm Street.







So reader, who gave up - the boy, the dog, the cat...?

Well the boy of course.
The boy who was chasing the dog vigorously in pursuing of the neighbor’s tabby cat, that had scampered up the old elm tree without any thought to coming down with every intent to make lunch of the new nest of sparrows, finally gave up at the corner of Elm Street.

Back to our painfully tortured GDPR sentence. ..
There is so much intervening stuff between the initial noun (personal data) qualifying things , that the reader could misread as...
"Personal data is no longer considered personal data."!!


 Rule for a kinder, gentler sentences

·      To make a sentence more readable move the noun phrase and the verb phrase closer to each other.  In other words -  cut out some of the middleman. (add it to a new sentence).
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