Print this Page

What is plain English?

“Plain English” means exactly that: writing in clear language that your reader can easily understand and act on.  The aim is for a document to be understood on its first reading, without a lot of head-scratching.  All documents can and should be written in plain English, no matter how complex or specialist the ideas are – plain English is not about over-simplifying, but rather it’s about making your writing clear and understandable.  In fact, we consistently hear comments that plain, direct language sounds more intelligent.

Plain English involves thinking from your reader’s point of view and working out how to communicate to that particular person.  It involves taking a systematic approach to writing to make sure that you are communicating exactly what you intend to.  It also involves formatting, appearance and design of documents to make information easy to find and interpret.  It is a skill that can be learned and developed.

Why does plain English matter?

What is the point in writing a letter that your client needs to phone you to explain to them?  Would you expect to get paid for writing a report full of jargon which your customer is unfamiliar with?  Would you get useful information back from an ambiguous questionnaire which doesn’t clearly ask for the information you need?

Plain English builds strong relationships with your customers and clients.  Plain English is about treating your readers – that is, your customers and clients – as intelligent people who are smart enough to understand you.  It shows respect for them and their time, because it shows that you want to communicate in a way that speaks to them.  Clients are much happier to pay for information and documents which are useful to them, and they are much more likely to refer you on to others.

Plain English is the voice of your brand.  Organisations that consciously use plain English to communicate tell us that:

  • it differentiates them from their competition;
  • it helps them send a clear message about the type of organisation they want to be; and
  • their customers and clients are more engaged with their brand.

Plain English makes financial sense.  Writing in plain English also saves you money.  By writing clearly, you avoid wasting time on follow-up calls, extra appointments, and missing information.  Getting rid of ambiguity in your contracts and policies lets you concentrate on getting the real work done, rather than wasting time and resources trying to work out what everyone thought they meant the first time.  And of course, you save real money on paper, ink and data storage costs.

Can’t I just do this myself?

Yes, you can if you have the skills – but chances are that not everyone in your organisation does.  Writing well is a skill that most people are not trained in, even though they need to do it frequently at work.  Like management and business development, people find themselves needing to use this skill without really knowing how to go about it.

We offer training and assistance to develop writing skills within in your organisation, so that clear communication becomes an automatic way of thinking.

Permanent link to this article:

Do you need us?

Are you preparing tender documents, bids or prospectuses? When there is real money riding on your documents being read and understood, it makes sense to have a professional review them.  We have worked on successful tenders for multi-million dollar projects to remove jargon, improve layout and readability, and create a cohesive and convincing proposal. Do …

View page »