Plain-language principles for clear communication

It’s always tempting to try to dazzle readers with your vocabulary and wit. But in doing so, it can be easy to miss the point of communication: to share information and be understood. Here are a few tips for writing in plain language to help you communicate clearly and in an easily consumable way:

1. Use the right type of language
A common misconception about plain language is that it’s simply about writing in small, easily understandable words. While it’s true that overly complex or precise words may be best replaced with several simpler words, there’s more to plain language than that. Because most content we consume is now digital, it’s easier than ever to lose readers’ attention. To keep them engaged, remove jargon where possible or provide a short explanation on first mention if you have to use it.

2. Keep it simple
Long sentences and large blocks of text can be intimidating or confusing. Use short sentences and paragraphs to convey one or two thoughts at a time so you don’t lose your readers.

Avoid elaborate turns of phrase, colloquialisms or metaphors. While they may energize your writing, they could easily confuse readers with different linguistic backgrounds.

Pay attention to the tone of your writing and its suitability for your audience. While a more conversational tone is generally preferable, it may not always be appropriate.

3. Present your content with readers’ needs in mind
Consider how best to present, format and organize your content. Varying the size of your font and including meaningful headers improves scannability so your readers can easily find the sections most relevant to them.

Avoiding overly large blocks of text, using figures where appropriate and including tables to present numeric information can all help improve readability.