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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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:
- Providing the first use of an abbreviation immediately before or after the expanded form
- Providing a link to definitions
- Providing a link to pronunciations
- Providing a glossary
- Providing a function to search an online dictionary
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
- Make the text easier to read using the clearest and simplest language appropriate for the content
- Provide visual illustration, pictures and symbols to help explains ideas, events and processes
- Provide a spoken version of the text
- Provide a text summary that can be easily understood
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.