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Teaching Essentials

Plain Language

Plain language, also called plain writing or plain English, is easy to read and understand. Aim to write to a grade 6-9 level for understanding. Write using clear and simple language. For difficult or complex text, provide additional content to aid in better understanding. This can include illustrations or a plain language summary.

Techniques

  • Make text easier to read using the clearest and simplest language
  • Aim to write to a grade 6-9 reading level for clear understanding
  • Use active, not passive tone
  • Use short, simple and everyday words that most people understand
  • Avoid adverbs and weakening phrases
  • Write how people speak

Structural techniques

  • Write in short, concise sentences
  • Use one topic per paragraph and one thought per sentence
  • Use bullet points rather than paragraphs to break up text and provide white or negative space. It makes skimming for information easier.

Advanced techniques

  • Provide visual illustrations, pictures and symbols to help explains ideas, events and processes to aid in understanding of the text
  • Provide a plain language text summary for difficult to read text that includes technical terms or complex language
  • Provide a spoken version of the text using an audio recording

Define unusual words

If you must use an unusual word or phrase, provide a definition, a glossary or a link to a definition.

Techniques to define unusual words include:

Abbreviations and acronyms

Try to avoid using abbreviations or acronym, but if you must:

  • Provide the abbreviation after the first use of the word or phrase and use the abbreviation or acronym afterwards
    • Example: Red River College (RRC)
  • Define the meaning of the abbreviation or acronym and a provide the correct way to pronounce it

Techniques to define acronyms include:

Writing and editing in plain language

Use Hemingway App for writing and editing for clear and simple language.

  • Either type directly into Hemingway App or copy and paste existing text into the app and edit it based on the suggested changes
  • The Hemingway App identifies:
    • Readability level based on grade. Aim to write at grade 6-9 reading level.
    • Complex and long sentences that are hard to read
    • Adverbs and weakening phrases that can be removed
    • Passive voice
Hemingway App identifying grade level and issues with the original text for this page.
Fig. 1 – Hemingway App identifying grade level and issues with the original text for this page.

Examples

Who benefits from plain language use?

Everyone benefits from plain language but some people require plain language for better understanding, including:

  • People with reading and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
  • People who have difficulty comprehending and interpreting written language
  • People who use screen reader software which speaks text out loud. This includes people who are blind, have low vision or a learning disability.
  • People whose first language is not English, including people who are Deaf who’s first language is American Sign Language (ASL). There is no written form of ASL.

Resources