Today, 13 October, marks International Plain Language Day. It is a perfect time for you to think about how you can ensure you are using plain English in your communications.
The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) continues to advocate for the use of plain English. We provide a range of Plain English services including editing and training to help organisations improve the way they communicate.
What is plain English?
Plain English is a way of writing and presenting information that helps someone understand it the first time they read or hear it. It involves short clear sentences and using everyday words. It does not involve small print or unnecessary jargon.
The top five plain English writing tips
Here are some tips that can help you use plain English in your writing.
1. Think of the person you are writing to and why you are writing
Ask yourself what words or concepts your reader is likely to know and what tone and level of detail is suitable and what message you want them to get from your information.
2. Be personal and direct
Use ‘we’ for your organisation and ‘you’ for the reader. As much as possible, say who is doing what, for example ‘We will write to you’ instead of ‘A letter will be sent’.
3. Keep it simple
Try not to inflict corporate language on the public – it doesn’t serve them or your organisation’s reputation! Avoid other complicated and foreign terms if you can use a plainer alternative to get your message across just as accurately.
4. Define or spell out any necessary jargon and abbreviations
If you must use a technical word, define it the first time you use it. The same applies to abbreviations – spell them out, especially if you intend to use them several times.
5. Keep sentences to an average of 15 to 20 words
Think about the point you want each sentence to make and stick to it. Try not to pad out your message with wordy and formal phrases such as ‘in the event of’, ‘in accordance with’ or ‘subsequent to’.
Want to learn more?
Sign up to NALA’s next Online Plain English Training on 10 November.
Join the NALA Plain English Network on LinkedIn where we share tips, resources, latest developments.