Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Considering language and style

The most successful brochures, bulletins and newsletters are written in the groups' own language (all small groups of people have their own specific and well-understood dialect) and developed and designed by the group members.

Font, format, colour, inclusion of logos, photos and graphics, and the style of printing are all group decisions.

However, this can become a bit more of a challenge when the document is being designed for a consumer community that is:

  1. Dispersed geographically - for example, a group that has members in very different parts of Victoria from the inner-city to country towns;
  2. Dispersed culturally;
  3. Dispersed socio-economically - sometimes there can be a huge difference in how much money people have; and
  4. Dispersed linguistically (the language people speak at home).

Despite these differences in backgrounds and experience it is amazing how often consumers from all over Victoria with very different (on the surface) experiences can "finish off each others' sentences" - that is, laugh at the same jokes, and speak the same "language" when it comes to experiences and outlooks.

Nonetheless, there are big differences in the ways people live and use language and these must be thought through when you're designing your communications.

For example, reaching different ethnic communities may seem very difficult, given the expense and dire shortage of interpreters, but you might be able to think laterally about who you know and who might want to help you.

The importance of language

If you would like your group to include and be welcoming to consumers who use private psychiatric services there is a big chance that they may not have heard of the word 'consumer' used in the way the consumer movement uses it; let alone words such as 'nutcase', 'batty' and 'loony' that have been reclaimed by activists.

They might be much more familiar and comfortable with the word 'patient' than 'consumer', and may well be offended by the use of words they have come to associate with abuse or derision.

At the same time, many consumer movement activists might well be incensed by the very term 'mental illness'. They may refuse to use it at all.

In groups that have to cover a broad spectrum of experiences there will be a need to accommodate both points of view. In these circumstances language becomes extremely important and can never be taken for granted.

A question of purpose

For many groups language isn't such a problem because what they want to do has nothing to do with mental illness services of any kind - these groups, thankfully, can just be people. A quilting group or pool playing group, for example, probably wouldn't need to grapple with these language challenges - they'd just need to know how to sew or hold a cue.

It is clearly harder to bring together a group which has amongst its objectives a critique of mental health service provision. However, it is not impossible.

One way of attempting to deal with the issue of language is to suggest a trade off, whereby people are prepared to compromise on the language used in a brochure on the proviso that the brochure includes an outline of the language dilemma and explains why the group has chosen the words it has.

Whatever you decide, it will be interesting for your group to explore these differences in language and to discover that what lies hidden behind the divergence.

Style and printing

Brochures, bulletins and newsletters don't need to be expensive to produce, they don't need to be glossy, and they don't need to contain lots of fancy pictures.

Quite often, in fact, brochures, bulletins and newsletters will need to be photocopied so the simpler they are the easier they will be to reproduce.

Photocopying is also cheaper, and an added bonus is that a lot of smaller agencies that may stock your brochure in their information holders or pamphlet racks will be quite willing to replenish stocks themselves if they are able to be photocopied.

Having a simple, easy-to-photocopy design will also help in the dispersal of your brochures, bulletins and newsletters from one group member to another, and from group members to others who may show an interest. This means all group members can help contribute to the advertising and recruitment of members for the group.

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