For me, this expression covers a broad set of features used to communicate, either verbally or with text and other media. It includes factors related to language, structure and design, and the relevance and appropriateness of all these to the subject and the target reader.

  • It is clear in that the widest audience possible in the target group can easily find and understand the information.
  • It is effective in that the reader can find enough information to be able perform a task in the way intended and with confidence. It assumes all information is accurate and complete.

Yes, keeping in mind that what that looks like will vary widely depending on various factors: genre (from ads to research reports); audience (from children to policy makers); purpose (from a brochure to a manual).

For some French writers, editors and translators, the principles of clear and effective communication seem to contradict traditions relating to what is considered a high level of writing. However, more and more are accepting the value of clear and effective communication and are able to have the French version follow these principles.

Plain language is a term that has been in use for many years now but that has many interpretations depending on the user.

  • PLAIN defines it as follows: “Plain language is a way of communicating that everyone in your audience can easily understand. There are various plain-language writing and design techniques and several important benefits for using them.”
  • Some think it means speaking to the weakest reader, calling it ‘dumbing down’, and therefore believe it devalues a publication. However, I believe this is a misconception of the term and practice.

Bias-free language is language about people that is appropriately neutral and therefore does not introduce a bias based on sex, race, age, ability, disease, sexual orientation, etc. To avoid being inappropriate, we should use terms denoting these categories only if they are absolutely relevant.

  • Use equivalent terms (e.g., man, woman and NOT man, lady; the doctor, NOT the female doctor)
  • Use gender-free terms (e.g., staff the booth, NOT man the booth)
  • Use ‘they, their’ for generic reference (e.g., Each director has met with their [NOT his or her] staff.)
  • Refer to a person rather than their condition. (e.g., We interviewed 3 people with cardiac disease and NOT we interviewed 3 cardiacs.)

Of course, when it is necessary to be more specific, it is essential to avoid derogatory terms.

Language that contains bias leads to thinking that is biased. It does not reflect the full potential of people and may lead to people being excluded either on a one-time basis or as a cultural norm.

In my experience with verifying the French translation against the English text, we often find that the translator has interpreted the text wrongly.

  • Sometimes it is simply because the translator is not an expert in the subject matter.
  • However, more often it is because the English text was ambiguous enough to lend itself to more than one interpretation.
  • This points to a need to clarify the English which should be done before the final version in English is signed off and given to the designer, printer or Webmaster.
  • It also means that when planning the overall process, care must be taken to give the translation phase enough of a turnaround time to adjust the translation and the English.

I can help you in various ways.

Planning phase

  • Invite me to attend planning meetings so I can offer tools and tips that may be of use to you in your project. Some of these may save you a significant amount of time and money and increase the overall quality of your inputs and outputs.


English version

  • As I mentioned above, for many publications, I can also be the designer and produce final copy in either Word or InDesign. This saves you both time and money. As well, the advantage of having simpler products designed in Word is that you can easily update them later.

French version

  • I can help you select a translator who agrees with principles of clear and effective communication.
  • If I have been the one to develop the English version, it is useful to have me also verify the French version against the original English.

Depending on the nature of the project there are many options.

  • I often meet with clients via Skype.
  • I also phone clients anywhere in North America and many European countries.
  • I may also be available to meet in person depending on the place and time.
    I am back and forth between Ottawa and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and could easily make a detour in Quebec or Atlantic Canada

For Skype and phone calls, I am quite flexible in terms of differences in time zones.

I have considerable experience over the past 30 years living and working in French:

  • BA concentration en langues et lettres françaises
  • exemption status with the Government of Canada
  • verify translations of English documents and negotiate with the translator as required
  • deliver training sessions in French
  • translate from French to English

NOTE:  I do not write or edit final material in French.


I am the sole proprietor of Maude Downey Consulting (MDC). However, as necessary, I do collaborate or sub-contract with colleagues with complementary skillsets, or simply refer them if that is the best option.

Yes, I would be happy to include some consultation time to review and discuss your process. See the answers to the other questions for some ways I may be of use.

It is often very useful to contact a contractor like me early in your process as I may be able to offer information and guidance that will help you with the following:

  • Save time — Plan the most feasible and efficient timeline (timing and time allotted for each task, contingencies, etc.), taking into account internal and external factors.
  • Save money — Get more value for your budget (assigning tasks, timing of tasks, suppliers, etc.).
  • Maximise your inputs
    • Avoid key gaps in process (planning early for evaluation, proofing done only after final copy-edit, etc.)
    • Use tips and tools in Word, Excel, Doodle etc to help manage project more efficiently.
  • Get the best possible outputs. — Aim for the best quality output within your budget.

To sum it up, contact me early to avoid wanting to say later
“Oh, I wish we had contacted you sooner. We could have done …!”

I am happy to work with you to see which tasks I could support you in doing in-house and which ones are more important to hire out.

  • For example, it may be useful to have one or more of your team members upgrade certain skills that you are likely to need again on other projects. Rather than pay me to use those skills, I could deliver a training session (complete with documentation), or potentially suggest another trainer in your area.
  • For many publications, I can also be the designer and produce final copy in either Word or InDesign. This saves you both time and money. As well, the advantage of having simpler products designed in Word is that you can easily update them later.

Usually I include a detailed list of costs, originally formulated in Excel.

  • I break down each task and include consultation time, time and hours for each task.
  • For writing, editing and translation, the times are based on industry standards and on my own estimate of what the project will require.
  • I also include any relevant assumptions for those tasks (e.g., for editing: Assumes one pass for copy-editing and all final material will be received before that task is done.)