“Elegance of language may not be in the power of all of us; but simplicity and straightforwardness are. Write much as you would speak; speak as you think. Be what you say; and, within the rules of prudence, say what you are.” So said Henry Alford English churchman, theologian, textual critic, scholar, poet, and writer about 150 years ago. The same rings true today and it’s called plain English. Put simply, or dare I say it plainly, plain English is writing something in a way that gives someone a good chance of understanding it at the first reading, and in the way that you want them to. It’s clear, direct writing, using as few words you need, and which avoids ambiguousness, verbage and complex sentences. It does not however mean always using simple words at the expense of the most accurate or writing like a pre-schooler.
The ability to write clear, concise reports, policy documents, websites, brochures and other documents is an essential part of any professional career. While there is no magic formula, here are the eight key rules I have stuck with over my many years of plain English editing, writing and training. I hope they help!
- Consider your audience.
- Keep it simple.
- If you have to look up a word’s meaning, don’t use it.
- Use the active voice.
- Don’t use jargon if there’s a plain English equivalent.
- Get your punctuation right.
- Have one idea per sentence.
- If it’s not crucial, delete it.
I’ll leave the last piece of advice to Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler”.
Here are two plain English things you can do right now.
- Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a printable, designer pdf of my eight tips for writing plain English at work.
- Share this article on social media: Sharing quality content increases your visibility and credibility with your existing contacts, creating conversations and potentially new business.