You might have heard of or come across the term plain language. It’s talked about more and more these days. Some people think plain language is dumbing down information, but it’s not. It’s using words and structure that lead to effective communications so just about anyone can understand, process, and apply the information being delivered. Isn’t that what we all want?
According to PlainLanguage.gov, “No one technique defines plain language. Rather, plain language is defined by results — it is easy to read, understand and use.”
With that said, let’s take a look at some common language and design techniques that can help achieve the results.
- and other pronouns — Using pronouns pulls your audience into the communications and makes it more meaningful. Use you for the reader, I when writing question headings from the reader’s viewpoint, and we for your organization.
- Active voice — Using active voice clarifies who is doing what. On the other hand, passive voice obscures it. What’s more, active voice is generally shorter, as well as clearer. Active sentences are structured with the actor first (as the subject), then the verb, then the object of the action. (e.g., Write or say, “The storm knocked out the power,” instead of “The power was knocked out by the storm.”)
- Short sentences and paragraphs — Using short sentences, paragraphs, and sections helps your audience get through your material. People get lost in long, dense text with few headings.
- Common, everyday words — You don’t impress people by using big words; you just confuse them. Why include utilize or leverage when use will do? Also, stay away from jargon, foreign terms, Latin terms, and legal terms. For a handy list of simple words to use instead of more complex words or wordy phrases, click here.
- Easy-to-read design features — Think headers, pulled quotes, bulleted lists, and tables. You’ll be adding more white space to your communications, making it more appealing to your audience. Don’t forget to switch up the font color, too. But, don’t go overboard. Stick with one accent font.
If you try these writing and design techniques in your communications, you may just make your messages easy to process and understand, and that’s a good thing.
P.S. Just in case you don’t believe us when it comes to the power of plain language, here is what a few others had to say about it:
- “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well. Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. Everything should be as simple as it can be, yet no simpler.” — Albert Einstein
- “The shorter and the plainer the better.” — Beatrix Potter
- “The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity.” — Robert Stuberg
- “Use the smallest word that does the job.” — E.B. White