Mind your language — make it plain for the win

Anne-Marie Chisnall | April 15, 2019

Imagine a world where website content is easy to navigate and forms are easy to fill out. Applying for a loan is a breeze, and buying insurance or choosing a superannuation scheme is simple and quick. Legal documents are clear and concise, and contracts are written using everyday terms, not legalese.

This utopian-sounding world is a world where plain language is the norm.

Sadly, this isn’t the world we live in. Most of our everyday transactions and business decisions are harder than they need to be because of unclear documents that are difficult to understand.

What if we could make decision-making easier for all, and streamline processes and procedures? What if we could encourage professions and institutions to communicate in a way that puts the reader at the centre?

Image, arm of the milky way with starry sky

Our languages have more words than the number of stars in the sky. That doesn’t mean you need to use all the words in one document. Image by Cosmic Timetraveler with Unsplash licence

Why the opposite of plain language often wins out

No single answer exists for why so much of what we read (and, let’s face it, write) is dense, difficult to navigate, and not reader-focused. Perhaps people prefer to stick with what’s familiar.

Ask any person starting work in a policy department or executive team how they know what style of writing is expected, and they’ll probably point to documents that have been written before. It can be hard to change ‘the way things have always been done here’. Changing a culture of communication will often come second to ‘just getting the work done’.

Or perhaps people just don’t know that they can write more how they speak and still be considered professional. The discipline of plain language is much more recent than the inherited, bureaucratic style of writing from academia and government.

Many people may not be aware of the simple techniques that can transform writing into something clear and easy for readers — or perhaps haven’t given themselves permission to write clearly.

How you can make plain language your go-to writing style

To make these sorts of changes, we need plain language in our daily lives.

Plain language principles are surprisingly simple. You can learn to make plain language your go-to way of writing by consistently applying some basic techniques. And, with regular practice, you’ll find that plain language comes more naturally. You’ll begin to appreciate the numerous benefits — and even start to demand plain language from others.

Here’s how you can get started on your plain language journey. We’ve created a short online course called Plain Language Foundations. It covers some of the main features of plain language in business documents, and it’s for busy professionals. It’ll start you on your way — or give you a refresher if you haven’t used your plain language toolkit in a while.

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Download the Write Plain Language Standard for free

Check out a contract written in plain language

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