Plain English

Recommendations

Make content clear and understandable, to open the web up for users with different literacy levels and access challenges. Test your content with users, as what is 'plain' for one person may not be for someone else.

1. Do not use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, and ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’. Write for the reading comprehension of a 9 year old to reach the most users and to make your content easy to scan.

2. Jargon and buzzwords are rarely clear language. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. Avoid them. Instead, think about what the term actually means and describe that. Be open and specific.

Example:
"Let's touch base in 10 and do some blue sky thinking." This uses jargon.
"Let's meet in 10 minutes to think of ideas." Conveys same meaning using clear language.

3. Write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you were talking directly to them, with the authority of someone who can help and inform.

Usability evidence

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable. 2008
"Using the clearest and simplest language appropriate is highly desirable."
https://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/meaning-supplements.html

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

'Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities' p4 Article 2, Definitions. 2018
Includes plain language as one of the "modes, means and formats of communication".
http://templatelab.com/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/

Nielsen Norman Group

'Plain Language Is for Everyone, Even Experts' H. Loranger, 2017
https://www.nngroup.com/articles/plain-language-experts/

14 Scribes J. Leg. Writing 121

'The Public Speaks: An Empirical Study of Legal Communication' C. R. Trudeau, 2012
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1843415

International Plain Language Federation

'Strengthening plain language' No date
http://www.iplfederation.org/

Plain Language Commission

Plain Language Commission style guide, 2011
https://www.clearest.co.uk/plain-language-commission-style-guide

Impact Information

'The principles of readability' William H. DuBay, 2004
http://www.impact-information.com/impactinfo/readability02.pdf

Wikipedia

Plain language entry, last updated 2018
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plain_language

Related wiki pages

Sentence structure
Sentence length
Jargon

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