Plain English

This resource is an archived version of the Readability Guidelines.

New wiki is at:
Go to the Plain English page.


Make content clear and understandable, to open the web up for users with different literacy levels and access challenges. WCAG states that "using the clearest and simplest language appropriate is highly desirable." The United Nations recommends plain language for communications.

1. Do not use formal or long words when easy or short ones are available. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, and ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’. Write for the reading comprehension of a 9 year old. This helps you reach the most users and makes 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.

"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.

4. Test your content with users: what is 'plain' for one person may not be for someone else.

Usability evidence

Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable., Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, 2008.

'Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities', page 4 Article 2, Definitions, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2018.

'Plain Language Is for Everyone, Even Experts', H. Loranger, Nielsen Norman Group, 2017

'The Public Speaks: An Empirical Study of Legal Communication', C. R. Trudeau in 14 Scribes J. Leg. Writing 121 2012

'Strengthening plain language', International Plain Language Federation. Undated.

Plain Language Commission style guide, Plain Language Commission, 2011

'The principles of readability', Impact Information, William H. DuBay, 2004

Plain language entry, Wikipedia, last updated 2018

Related wiki pages

Sentence structure
Sentence length

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