Plain English writing and design tips

The top five plain English writing tips

 1.  Think of the person you are writing to and why you are writing

Ask yourself what words or concepts the person is likely to know already, what tone and amount of detail is suitable and what message they are supposed to get from your information.

2.   Be personal and direct

Don’t be afraid to 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 unavoidable jargon and abbreviations

If you must use a technical word because there is no plain alternative to it, define the term 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’.

Document design tips

Whether you work regularly with a designer or design your own material in-house, you can use some of these guidelines to produce a leaflet that is easy to read and looks appealing.

1. Use a clean and clear font

Fonts such as Arial, Verdana and Tahoma work well for printed material and websites alike. A good standard size for most readers is 12 point.

2.  Break up long paragraphs and complex information

Keep your reader’s attention by using 1.5 line spacing, lots of white space, bullet points and sub-headings. These help your reader find their way and let them quickly see what information is most important.

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.  Add some colour, carefully

If your budget allows, use contrasting colour to brighten up a document. Different coloured pages can work well, as can simple borders at the top or bottom of a page. Beware of poor contrast though: dark blues, reds, purples and greens work well, but yellow, orange and pastel shades are best avoided.

5.  Use images and other visuals to add to your message

If you are giving instructions, consider including drawings or photos of each step. If you are presenting financial or other numerical information, consider a graph, chart or table. But remember to keep any graphics relevant, simple and close to the text.

6.  Make important points stand out

If you want to stress a point, use lower case bold for isolated words or sentences. Italics and underlining make it harder to decipher the shape of a word, while all block capitals can make it appear that YOU ARE SHOUTING!

7.  Avoid background images

Avoid using background images behind text. Many organisations use illustrations as a background image behind text. This makes text harder to read, especially if the background image is very colourful.

Sign up to be kept up to date on our latest campaigns.

Send Feedback
Welcome to our new website!
If you notice a mistake or find a link that doesn’t work, let us know.