Part 2: Why you should use plain language in your business.
Part 3: How to write in plain language.
Plain language, or plain English, is a way of writing and using layout design to make your message as easy to understand as possible. It's user-friendly writing.
Plain language can
Plain language keeps the reader in mind, and makes written information clear, accurate and accessible. It makes sure that the wording, structure and design are clear so that readers can easily find what they need, understand it, and then use that information.
A text can be beautifully written, grammatically correct and unambiguous, but still be difficult for the reader to read and understand.
However, plain language is not just about simple words and short sentences, and it doesn't mean you can't use complex sentences and words if they are appropriate and can be understood by your reader. Plain language does not dumb down the message or talk down to a reader, nor is it informal. It simplifies the way the content is expressed, but it doesn't simplify the message. It keeps the reader’s needs ahead of the writer’s desire to impress and embellish.
Plain language can be used in government and business documents, health information, business marketing, internal communication, and even legal documents.
When it's important for your readers to easily understand and use your content, then it's best to use plain language.
Examples of plain language writing
The first simplest example of a document that is difficult to understand is a legal document full of terms that are no longer used (or were never used) in normal spoken or written English. Most of us will have read, or attempted to read, one at some point.
The problem is that without a lawyer’s interpretation, we may not understand what we are signing, and even with a lawyer’s help, the language makes it more difficult to remember and to use to make decisions.
Here is an excerpt from a will:
In witness whereof, the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on the (day, month and year) hereinbefore mentioned.
Which simply means:
Signed on (date).
But there are less obvious examples of times when plain language would be useful. It could be a document from an authority that provides instructions, such as a health authority or local council, a company that provides services, or a business communication that gives information to staff.
Here are some examples:
Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for care and have low income and limited resources.
You may apply if you are:
The application must be completed by the applicant and received by the financial office by 1 June.
We must receive your application by 1 June.
In both these examples, the reason for writing is so that the reader can understand the message and take action.
Therefore, the text needs to be
Using the principles of plain language can help your readers, and improve your business.
If you are writing a document or book in plain language and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers of business documents and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your writing is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your writing shine, please contact me.
I would love to hear from you.
Hi, I'm Marja!
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New Zealand English Series
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