Using Plain English

See also: Writing a Report

Do you think that:

Making your writing complicated will impress your readers?

Inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence structures will make you look clever?

Seven words or phrases are better than one?

Lots of abbreviations, jargon and all the latest management buzzwords are required?

Or do you just want to use lots of words to fill up that word count?


If you answered yes to any of these then you might be making your writing overly complex and so confusing to the reader.

There is a growing move to simplify the language used in official and business documents since many of these have become so convoluted that the intended message is lost. This move is known as the campaign for plain English.

Plain English gets its meaning across clearly and concisely to its intended audience.

The Plain English Campaign

Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary… Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. They make sure that their audience understands the message easily.

Professor Robert Eagleson

Overly complicated, bureaucratic language and corporate jargon have infiltrated much contemporary writing and limit our ability to communicate.

Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important life skills and so the infographic below introduces the concept of plain English and gives some examples of how you can make your writing clearer.

Plain English Please! Cut out the Jargon

Plain English cuts out the jargon and enables people to understand information clearly. It is an important approach for those people dealing with members of the public – the Government, doctors, lawyers and many more professionals. In this infographic, find out about the plain English movement around the world as well as about the many benefits of using plain English.

Infographic supplied by:
Simply Put. Plain English service provided by the National Adult Literacy Agency

Tips for Writing in Plain English

Plain English is a style of writing that enables the reader to understand the message the first time they read it. It uses short, clear sentences and everyday words without unnecessary jargon.

To use plain English, you may need to edit your writing several times over, or even ask someone else to read it for you.

When you first write a document, do not worry too much about using plain English but just get the words down and your message across.

Here are our tips on how to then review your work:

  1. First take a break before rereading what you have written so that you can come to it fresh.

  2. Pick out the jargon. Look for the phrases listed in the infographic above, as well as stock ones such as “client services”, “think outside the box” or “hit the ground running”. Ask yourself what you mean by these and rewrite or delete the phrase.

  3. Delete unnecessary words. Look for extra words that you don’t really need such as “in order to” instead of just “to”, “together with” or “in conjunction with” instead of “with” on its own.

  4. Shorten your sentences. You may find that in some places you made a point but then had to qualify it by explaining background information as an afterthought in lots of sub clauses. If you have, reorder the information and use more than one sentence to rewrite it.

  5. Repeat these stages until you are happy with the text.

Remember that the point of plain English is to communicate clearly and concisely with your intended audience.

Whilst this article refers to the campaign for plain English, a similar approach can be taken to writing in any language.