Lynda Harris | June 12, 2023
In a way, we all decide what is plain language and what isn’t. The proof is in the pudding, as the old adage goes.
We can usefully view plain language as a set of techniques proven to make a text more reader friendly, but the real test is how the reader reacts. If a communication is clear and easy to read for its intended audience, it has succeeded, and can be considered plain language.
To know if your writing is in plain language:
Writing in plain language means having:
When reading your writing, your readers should get a sense of:
Checking this is easy. Get one of your likely readers to read a snippet of your writing and tell you how it makes them feel.
Ideally, your readers can understand and act on your writing after one reading. If your writing creates a lot of follow-up questions, that’s a sign that you still need to work on giving readers what they need.
Here are two standards you might find useful.
This free standard is a set of techniques to help you tick off all three criteria above.
We’re pretty excited about the long-awaited international standard (ISO). It’s a guidance standard that will include in-depth aspects of plain language. We’ll keep you posted!
In our view, one of the best definitions comes from the International Plain Language Federation. It says:
A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.
And the Plain Language Act 2022 carries a brief description too, describing it simply as language that is:
appropriate to the intended audience; and clear, concise, and well organised.
It’s short and sweet, but captures a lot!
We can audit 8 to 10 of your documents against either:
Or you can check out the WriteMark Plain Language Standard, and the WriteMark Plus, if you’d like to go a step further and tell the world about your plain language approach.
We’re happy to say that The Write Plain Language Standard and the WriteMark Plain Language Standard are perfectly in line with the principles embodied in the ISO Standard.