While working in England, I was fortunate to attend training in Plain English. It is also known as plain language. It’s a fundamental concept to good writing for the web and print, and creating content that is user-friendly and easy to read.
The definition of plain English is language that emphasizes clarity, brevity, and avoids technical language, particularly in government and business communication.
The goal of your writing is to create text that is clear, concise and easy to understand. Hopefully, it’s communication that your audience understands the first time they read or hear it. A well-written document has logical organisation.
Plain English is based on some principles to make your writing clear and easy to understand:
- Use a conversational tone
- Avoid wordiness
- Simplify your sentence structure
- When proof-reading remove any unnecessary words
- Avoiding industry terms or jargon
- Use visuals, graphs, charts and photos
The writer uses common everyday words except for necessary technical terms. Try to avoid the use of weasel words – these are words that overstate or understate, give an exaggerated view, or are intentionally misleading.
Try to use the fewest number of words possible. Aim for short sentences with around 20 words or less is preferred, and paragraphs of 6 to 8 lines. It’s good to add sub-headings and diagrams or illustrations to break up large areas of text and add some interest to your article.
‘Even the most complicated policies and decisions can be explained in a clear and simple way. People in public life sometimes forget this golden rule, but the Plain English Campaign has been quick to remind us of the importance of straightforward language. ‘Jack McConnell MSP, former First Minister of Scotland
Plain English leads to stronger writing that is easy to understand online and off.
Plain English Resources
The National Adult Literacy Agency has created a range of plain English guides including legal terms, environmental terms, political terms, citizenship terms, financial terms, healthcare settings, and creating forms. https://www.nala.ie/
Federal Plain Language Guidelines: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/FederalPLGuidelines.pdf
A comprehensive manual, aimed at writers in government, the US Federal Plain Language Guidelines: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/
Center for Plain Language: http://centerforplainlanguage
Plain English Campaign
Plain English Campaign offers training courses, editing and proofreading services, accreditation, copywriting, consultation, and translation services. http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/