Words at work

– 4 min read

Plain language best practices that will make your content anything but plain

Ashley Coolman

Ashley Coolman

Each minute, Instagrammers post more than 277,000 stories. Twitter sees more than 500,000 new tweets. About 188 million emails arrive in inboxes across the world. Google responds to nearly 5 million search requests. WordPress, a popular website hosting platform that manages roughly 27% of all blogs, sees 3,050 new posts. Again, that’s every minute.

The amount of content we encounter daily is, quite simply, staggering.

Due to the influx of content, most of us have cultivated the ability to skim rather than read an entire page of text. In a skimmer’s world, complex wording is too time-consuming and stressful to read — which makes writing in plain English a critical practice.

Plain language is anything but plain

Plain language is a writing technique used to make content clearer for the intended audience. Using simple language ensures readers can easily find what they need, understand the text once they find it, and use the text to meet their goals.

In some contexts, “plain” is a synonym for “boring”. That’s not the case with plain language. Using plain language doesn’t mean you need to dumb down your content (quality writing skills aren’t defined by an expansive vocabulary, after all). Instead, it means you open up your content to a wider audience.

Using plain language doesn’t mean you need to dumb down your content (quality writing skills aren’t defined by an expansive vocabulary, after all). Instead, it means you open up your content to a wider audience.Click To Tweet

Plain English principles help writers respect their audiences. Content will be easier for less fluent speakers to understand. It will be more approachable for those with less knowledge of the subject and associated jargon. And it will be a faster read for people who have less time to spare.

Put differently, the benefits of plain language mean your audience should never have to reread content to understand it.

Plain language best practices

Implementing plain English tips does your business a favor. If your content is easier to understand, your audience is more likely to actually read what you’ve written.

Here’s a plain language checklist you can follow to ensure that more of your content is clear and concise:

  1. Be brief. Keep sentences under 25 words and use a maximum of five sentences per paragraph.
  2. Summarize the main point right away. Skimming readers will stop reading if they don’t understand where the content is going.
  3. Use headers to break up content on a single page and group related content together.
  4. Use lists to break content into short and easily digestible sections.
  5. Remove jargon that might confuse readers.
  6. Use consistent naming conventions, especially if you’re using unique spelling and punctuation patterns. It helps your reader build familiarity with how you speak so they know what to expect.
  7. Write in the active voice as much as possible. It’s more powerful and easier to understand. Plus, it usually makes your sentences shorter.
  8. Use two columns in PDFs and flyers to make the content feel less heavy or overwhelming. The additional white space also improves readability.
  9. Don’t make assumptions about what your audience does or doesn’t understand. Question, research, and test everything.

Plain language doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all creativity. You can still use simple language with fun examples and descriptive phrasing (and, in fact, I think you should). As long as your creative writing is clear, readers will thank you for respecting their needs.

Implementing plain language with Writer

If you’re a content writer or organization looking to reap the benefits of plain language, Writer can help you scan content and flag concerns. The platform checks for things like:

  • Did you write in active voice?
  • Did you use short sentences?
  • Did you use common or familiar words?
  • Do your sentences contain large gaps between subjects, verbs, and objects (an indicator of complex writing)?

If Writer detects problems, it will provide suggestions on how to improve the writing using plain language guidelines.

If you’re interested in using Writer to check for plain language and improve your content, start your free trial today.