Say It Plain With Plain Language

Say It Plain With Plain Language

What Is Plain Language?

Communicating in an understandable language is fundamental for meaningful human interaction. When a person does not understand a foreign language spoken to him, there remains a darkness about the intentions of that person speaking.

This same problem can exist when the same language is spoken between two people but not in a clear, understandable way. The meaning can be missed just as well. It can be argued that if the federal government, or anyone, insisted on unclear, complex statements when communicating, then they are being dishonest. They are not being honorable in the sense of being transparent with their citizens. This does not encourage trust. Trust is fundamental in both leadership and a contractual relationship.

The US government’s Plain Writing Act, established in 2010, mandates that government agencies use contract language that is plain and understandable to the average person. It was motivated by the conviction that the citizens of the US deserve to understand what their government is saying, although the Act does not cover regulations. It requires federal agencies to compose “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.”

Some Principles For Plain Language

· Use One Idea per Sentence Long, complex sentences with connected ideas and supporting clauses are hard to follow. People won’t absorb the main point because of the distractions of subordinate ideas. Instead, break up complex thoughts into easily expressed short sentence units that contribute to the main point. Readers will more effectively track your thinking.

· Avoid Long sentences Shorter sentences promote successful communication. A single idea conveyed in one short sentence appears and sticks to the reader’s mind more easily. Readers will see the idea better than reading longer sentences carrying a train of related notions.

Parts of a complex idea are more easily grasped when presented individually. The reader can then build up the simple ideas to the complex idea structure more successfully.

· Use an Active Voice Using an active voice easily points out the actor in a sentence. Passive voice sentences can seem evasive regarding significant actors in a contract agreement, for example.

Business Use Of Plain Language

Not only does the federal government need to use plain language for its public communications but private enterprises should too. Commercial corporations should be clear when drafting contracts to procure business. Whether these contracts are between business to business, or doing business with the federal government, the contractual language should be plain and understandable. Without such clarity in the language, both sides stand to lose something important. Promises might fall short of desired requirements. Expected obligations might not be met. And there will be violated the trust and damaged business prospects.

Advanced software technologies using AI and NLP can help companies to know whether their contract language is plain enough for fair dealings. It can demonstrate whether the contractual language is readable or not. The Content Analytics Platform (CAP), developed by Scion Analytics, can provide readability scores for any size document, regardless of its complexity.

The Importance of Accessibility in Language

The Importance of Accessibility in Language

Words Matter

In the age of Information, we are given a choice about the content we consume. Content has become more sophisticated and complex for the general audience. But how digestible is it for people with cognitive disabilities? Cognitive disabilities are invisible and less recognized in society. There are ramps to replace steps, doorways that are widened, and restrooms that accommodate wheelchairs. But information is hardly cognitively accessible for everyone. For people with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities processing relevant and everyday information can still be a challenge.

Businesses must accept the responsibility of accessible communication. In 2010, Barack Obama signed the Plain Language Act into law. It required government agencies to use plain language for federal communication. This law ensured that critical communication such as disaster relief and pandemic-related news will be understood by everyone.

How To Use Plain Language For Accessible Communication

There are certain steps and guidelines businesses can take to accommodate special populations when it comes to information.

1. Use most common words with fewer syllables. There is no need for complex jargon and vocabulary words. Simple syntax is key.

2. Use one idea per sentence. Avoid using run-on sentences and compound sentences.

3. Start each paragraph with one idea and develop that idea to completion within the paragraph.

4. Use active voice over passive voice. Instead of writing, “Seatbelts should be worn by everyone,” say “Everyone should wear seatbelts”.

5. Use the text to communicate information rather than describe something or entertain the reader.

6. Use simple fonts that are not highly stylized.

7. Use a simple layout for the text. Consider the spacing and the visual impression of the document. Text that is accommodating has more space between lines, more space between paragraphs, and uses bullet points and lists.

The Implications Of Accessibility In Language

The interesting thing about businesses adapting to plain language is that it requires a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Plain language is intended for an 8th-grade reading level. The average American reads at an 8th-grade level. To write at a higher reading level requires more extensive vocabulary but a more cursory grasp of the subject matter.

Plain language requires the writer to be concise and to explain things well. Plain language content might be longer because there is more to explain. It doesn’t encourage using metaphors, idioms, and flowery language as descriptions of ideas. While it can be a challenge to explain a complex subject matter in plain language, the practice greatly contributes to the accessibility of information.

Conclusion

On the internet, content is currency. From social media to websites, blogs and everything imaginable content dominates the way people consume and process information. In turn, that information exchange dictates the quality of the decisions people make in their lives. It is only fair and responsible that businesses take into consideration the cognitively disabled individuals in society and how information is consumed by them. By using plain language to explain complex ideas, businesses promote more equality and inclusivity in communication.

How To Avoid Long Sentences

How To Avoid Long Sentences

How to avoid long sentences is important for successful writers. Good writers impact their readers quickly with clear ideas. The ideas are expressed in short sentences and few interruptions. Reading audiences range from school children to academic professors. All reading audiences benefit from concise statements rather than long, complex sentences.

Why You Should Avoid Long Sentences

Why should you avoid long sentences? Shorter sentences promote successful communication. Most people cannot easily process sentences complicated with several ideas. A single idea conveyed in one short sentence appears and sticks to the reader’s mind more easily. A reader sees the concept with greater visual clarity better than reading longer sentences carrying a train of related notions. Parts of a complex idea are more easily grasped when presented individually better than grouped in a longer sentence. The reader can then build up the simple ideas to the complex idea structure more successfully.

One Idea Per One Sentence

As stated above, write sentences with one idea to be more readable and impactive. Most people will be bogged down with long, complex sentences with connected ideas and supporting clauses. They will not be able to absorb the main point because of the apparent distractions of subordinate ideas. Instead, break up complex thoughts into easily expressed short sentence units that contribute to the main point. Readers will more effectively track with your thinking.

Use An Active Voice

Use an active voice in the sentence structure. This easily points out the actor in a sentence. Passive voice sentences can seem evasive regarding significant actors in a contract agreement, for example. Passive voice sentences usually take more words to express, which renders a writing lengthier than necessary.

Use Bullet Points For Lists

Use bullet points to list several things in an organized way. Instead of listing many things in a continuous sentence, using bullet points will display all the listed items in an easily scannable way. As an example, rather than mentioning how to avoid long sentences by stating one idea per sentence, using an active voice, using bullet points for lists, and avoiding run-on sentences, instead write such a list this way:

Avoid long sentences by:

· stating one idea per sentence,

· use an active voice,

· use bullet points for lists,

· avoid run-on sentences.

Avoid Run-On Sentences

Avoid run-on sentences. These are different from long sentences, which are sometimes necessary. But run-on sentences are never necessary. Examples of run-on sentences are:

· I like ice cream, I make my own ice cream.

· The weather is gloomy, overcast skies depress me.

Using better grammar, better sentence structure, and coordinating conjunctions, these are better written in these possible ways:

· I like ice cream so much that I make my own.

· I like ice cream; I make my own ice cream.

· The weather is gloomy. Overcast skies make me depressed.

· The weather is gloomy; overcast skies depress me.

Avoiding run-on sentences by breaking them up into smaller sentences especially contributes to the main goal of avoiding long sentences.

Conclusion

Avoiding long sentences is important for keeping your readers’ attention and making your message clear to them. This practice is critical for contracts and proposals in the business world. Rather than confusing the audience of a federal government contractor, capture their imagination easily and quickly. Avoiding long sentences will ensure this goal. Impressing your readers with your ideas is the goal of writing in plain, simpler language.

How To Improve Readability

How To Improve Readability

What Is Readability

A writer’s best-kept secret is readability. Readability is the practice of effective communication. To use transparent communication that is accessible to the most general audience. Why does it work? Readability works well for a variety of subjects because it produces digestible content. In 2010, the average reader had an attention span of 12 seconds. By 2021, that attention span has shortened to 7 seconds.

Readability Example

Most people are busy and do not have the time or the patience to read long complex sentences. They want content that is clear and to the point. For example, if a reader is searching on “how to learn Chinese”, they can come across two different search results. One search result is: “The study of Chinese language is a complicated undertaking that takes into consideration the nuances of Chinese characters and how to read them. Chinese tautology has a rich cultural meaning underpinning the semantic context”. That sounds confusing and the reader must overly exert themselves to process the context. Another search result can be: “The Chinese language is a hard language for new students to study. Because of the Chinese culture and characters, there’s a lot to understanding it.” The message has clarity and brevity and gives the reader exactly what they were looking for.

How To Improve Readability

1. Use Plain Language

Plain language improves readability because it is concise and to the point. It does not rely on jargon or complex sentence structure to communicate. Federal agencies are mandated to use plain language as well as some businesses prefer to use it. Research has found that the average American reads at an 8th-grade level. Using plain language ensures that the content is accessible to the widest audience.

2. One Idea Per Sentence, One Idea Per Paragraph

 Short sentences and focused paragraphs increase readability. A good rule to follow is to use one idea per sentence and one idea per paragraph. It is a good practice to start the paragraph with the main idea and follow

with the details. This ensures that the right message is communicated to the reader, and they do not get lost in long-winded sentences.

3. Leave Out The Adjectives And Adverbs

 Adjectives and adverbs have a place when it comes to expository and creative writing. However, for writing that relies on plain language and focuses on readability, a writer should omit them. Adjectives and adverbs provide nuance and descriptions to verbs and nouns in some writing formats. But readability is about precision in communication which leaves little room for interpretation. A writer can increase readability by sticking to an active voice and omitting adjectives and adverbs.

4. Use A Readability Tool

To improve readability, a writer must have good writing habits. But sometimes even professional writers need extra help. By using a readability tool, such as offered by the Content Analytics Platform (CAP) by Scion Analytics, a writer can automatically assess and improve the readability level of content.

Conclusion

Readability makes good writing great and accessible to the reader. A writer should always strive to improve readability for a better experience for the reader.

Benefits Of Plain Language

Benefits Of Plain Language

In 2010, when President Obama signed into federal law the Plain Writing Act of 2010 it was to mandate that federal executive agency use plain language as a standard of communication. The premise of this law is that the American public deserves plain language communication from its government. As plain language became more ubiquitous across the government and business sectors, the tangible and intangible benefits of plain language and readability become more emphasized.

6 Reasons To Use Plain Language

1. Plain Language Is Efficient

These days people have short attention spans. A decade ago, marketers measured that the average reader’s attention span was 12 seconds. Now, the average reader’s attention span is a mere 7 seconds. That is about as long as it takes to read these two sentences. A writer needs to capture the attention of the audience and that is best done with plain language. That is because it gets your message across in the most efficient way possible.

2. Plain Language Is Clear

For businesses, a message is only effective when it is understood. Plain language is based on an 8th-grade reading level ensuring clarity and simplicity in communication. Did you know that the average American reads at an 8th-grade level? For messaging to be inclusive and accessible, it needs to be clear to the general audience.

3. Plain Language Is Easy To Understand

This is especially important when it comes to writing an instructional manual. Plain language is easy to understand, and instructions written in plain language are easy to follow. For a business, this reduces complaints, inquiries, and confusion from customers that are unable to follow complicated instructions.

4. Plain Language Is Better For Marketing

When it comes to user experience on the website and digital marketing collateral such as blog posts, web pages, and articles, plain language offers businesses more of a competitive advantage. Websites written in plain language have less of a bounce rate. Marketing collateral written in plain language drives revenues and builds customer loyalty as it is more

appealing to a wider audience. Also, consider that marketing promotions for a complicated product in the tech space tend to perform better when written in plain language as opposed to technical jargon.

5. Plain language Creates A Positive Image

Using plain language creates a reputation for your business as one that puts people first. Because when you have clear communication, it comes across as having consideration for your audience. Making sure that your audience feels acknowledged by transparent and honest communication. This promotes a positive reputation for the brand as well as customer loyalty. The internet is full of noise and competing for marketing messages. By using plain language, a business stands out from the crowd and tailors its message to the customer.

6. Plain Language Is Universal

While plain language became law for government agencies, it was also used across different industries to improve communication. Businesses such as banks, insurance companies, law firms, legal services, and IT companies use plain language to communicate with customers. This saves time and money with every message that the business puts out.

Conclusion

The benefits of plain language are tremendous for businesses that are looking to have transparent and efficient communication with customers.

What Is Plain Language Writing?

What Is Plain Language Writing?

When the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Obama the whole country took notice of plain language writing. The law mandated that federal agencies use plain language in all their communication. This was done to create transparency in communication between the government and Americans. Several corporations and business entities followed suit after the government under the premise that plain language communication is transparent and honest. As human beings, we feel more comfortable and connected with communication that is simple and easy to understand. It also improves readability. Any deviance from simple language becomes open for confusion and misinterpretation.

So, what is plain language writing? How can a writer become better at using plain language?

6 Fundamental Rules For Plain Language Writing

1. Write For Your Audience

One of the cardinal rules of plain language writing is to write for your audience. The needs of the audience and the reading level of the audience must be considered. Research has found that the average American reads at an 8th-grade level. Keeping those statistics in mind do away with convoluted language and jargon and focus on what matters most- the reader.

2. Make Your Major Point First Before Going Into Details

Plain language writing is digestible. The writer should emphasize the main point first in the paragraph before going into supporting details. This focuses the reader and gets the point across without the reader losing interest.

3. Limit One Paragraph To One Point

Another fundamental rule of plain language writing is brevity. Plain language writing is known for using short sentences. It eliminates the grammatical mistakes of using long-winded or run-on sentences and keeps paragraphs limited to one idea. By keeping paragraphs focused, it organizes and structures the writing for maximum clarity and gets the message across to the reader.

4. Use Easy-To-Understand Words

An important rule of plain language writing is words that are easy to understand. The writer must do away

with complex words and jargon. If the writer must use technical words, they should be defined on the first reference. This is to ensure that the reader comprehends every word and there is no room for misinterpretation.

5. Use Active Voice

 Did you know there is a similarity between plain language writing and Ernest Hemingway? They both use active voice much more than passive voice in writing. Research has found that most of the bestselling novels of all time are written in active voice. Why? Because active voice provides clarity to the reader as to who is doing the action. Passive voice is less grammatically correct and harder to digest for the reader.

6. Write The Facts, Omit Everything Else

Plain language writing is journalistic in the sense that is a matter of fact. It sticks to the point, and it eliminates unneeded words and hyperbole to deliver the most concise message to the reader.

From government entities to businesses across industries, plain language writing is the foundation of effective communication.

What Is Readability?

What Is Readability?

Readability is a practice that determines how easy or difficult it is for a reader to understand a piece of text. There are different methods and equations for measuring readability which is comprised of different elements of writing. For example, word choice or syntax can influence readability. In marketing copy, a business that chooses the word “nonchalant” instead of “easygoing” is a business that is selecting to use words with poorer readability. For customers, these words are unfamiliar or complex leading to confusing and open-ended interpretations of the text. A business focused on effective communication is committed to sending out the right message.

Great business practices are built on effective communication. It can be the deciding factor between a business that performs well and engages with customers versus a business that is lagging in sales. But what makes communication effective? How can marketing and sales collateral inform the customer as well as attract attention? How can a business improve communication tactics? As businesses become more sophisticated so does how the business communicates internally and externally. This is in part due to the concept of readability.

On a general level, other factors go into a text’s readability such as sentence length, structure, and average syllables per word. Why is readability important? For a business, a customer needs to easily process information without straining to understand the text. Marketing copy that is full of jargon and complex ideas might make a customer lose interest in the company, bounce from the website, and not make a purchase.

One of the formulas that are used in readability is the Flesch Reading Ease Formula. It is used to assess the grade level of the reader. The Flesch Reading Ease Formula has become the standard used by many US government agencies such as the US Department of Defense.

The Specific Mathematical Formula Is For Flesch Reading Ease Formula:

RE = 206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)

RE = Readability Ease

ASL = Average Sentence Length (i.e., the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = Average number of syllables per word (i.e., the number of syllables divided by the number of words)

Readability Benefits

Reader Engagement

To fully understand the benefits of readability, the accessibility of text needs to be put into the context of the Digital Age. The pioneers of readability, Rudolf Flesch and Robert Gunning, could not foresee the tremendous volume of information that would flood the Internet. In its nascence, the Internet was a convenient way to share information that evolved into a content machine. These days, over four billion people are online, and businesses are aware that “content is king” contributing to an even greater demand for sticky content.

The sheer volume of information has probably shortened the attention span of readers. Research has found that in 2000 the average reader attention span was 12 seconds. In 2021, the average reader’s attention span is 7 seconds. That is a short time frame for the writer to grab attention and convince the reader to continue reading.

The pressure for content to be engaging keeps mounting as businesses undergo digital transformations. The benefit of a readability score is that it assesses how easy the text is to read. The easier the text is to read the more likely it will hold the reader’s attention. Readability provides quantifiable measurements for a text that can be used to set targets and metrics as part of a content strategy.

Plain Language

Another benefit of readability is its use of plain language guidelines. Plain language is a movement towards simplifying the content. It was started to make complex legal documents easier to read and is now mandated by the government and used by businesses around the world. In 2010, President Obama passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requiring federal executive agencies to adhere to plain language guidelines.

Why is plain language important? The basis of the law was the consideration that the average US adult reads at an eighth-grade level. This statistic shows the necessity of using inclusive language in government communication and beyond. Because plain and easy-to-understand language makes complicated topics more accessible to theaverage reader. It also improves the website user experience by addressing the website audience like a friend without formalities, in plain language.

What Is A Readability Score

For businesses, a variety of readability tools are available to help with messaging. By utilizing a readability tool, a business can generate a readability score. A readability score can signify to a business what level of education someone needs to read a piece of text easily. For example, using the Flesch-Kincaid readability score of 8 is approximately equivalent to a reading level of US grade 8. An 8th-grade reading level is appropriate to ages 13-14 and the writer must strike a balance between being informative yet accessible.

How To Improve A Readability Score

In business, the clarity and effectiveness of the message are important for successful communication. Once a business has come to rely on a readability tool, it can find ways to improve a readability score. The following are proven tactics for better readability:

1. Use Shorter Sentences

There are different readability formulas but one common denominator in all of them is: sentence length. By shortening a sentence, a writer can ensure a better readability score. For example, the sentence: “The friends had gathered for dinner under the candlelight with blue china patterns to be served orange duck with rice.” Can be shortened to: “The friends had gathered for dinner. It was served on blue china patterns. They enjoyed an orange duck with rice under the candlelight.” By breaking up sentence length, the reader can digest the point of each sentence easier. It also makes it easier to scan the text.

2. Minimize The Number Of Long Words

 Another component on which readability is score is word length. Some tests, such as the Flesch-Kincaid, use the number of syllables to calculate word length. Other tests, such as Coleman-Liau, calculate word length based on letter count. For example, using the word “prohibited” instead of “banned” will decrease readability. Using shorter, simpler words is a good tactic to use when writing for the public. However, writing for a legal or the financial industry, a writer may have to use more complicated terminology that is appropriate for that audience.

3. Write For Your Audience

One of the foremost rules of plain language and readability is to be inclusive and transparent with your audience. A piece of writing is so much more effective when it takes into consideration the language particular to the audience it is addressing. A good example is a legal industry which is known for having legal terminology and jargon associated with its communication. If a writer chooses to use terminology, he should offer definitions in the text. With the readability, the goal in mind should be not to ostracize your reader. Considering that the average American reads at an 8th-grade level, that is the baseline most writers need to be mindful about when writing.

4. Use Punctuation

The goal of punctuation is to help your reader understand what is being said. Run-on sentences, fragments, inappropriate or misplaced punctuation lower readability scores. If the use of punctuation is an issue, writers should consult grammar checks or brush up on punctuation rules to make sure it is used properly.

5. Stick To A Structure

For the best readability, it is important to have text that is grammatically correct, clear, and concise. Another factor to consider is how to structure the text. A writer should think about the story he wants to tell. What are the key points? Does the reader need to know more information before engaging with the key takeaways? Having an outline for the text can help the writer prioritize the focus of the article. It also helps the reader follow the story and internalize the message, things that are conducive to readability.

Industries That Use Readability

Education

Readability as a tool and as a practice has meaningful application in many industries. For example, in education teachers use readability to decide whether a particular text is suitable in a curriculum for students. If “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the English literature classic is appropriate for a 9th-grade reading level, it may therefore be too simplistic for an 11th grade English class.

Business

In the business sector, many types of businesses utilize readability to simplify documents, so they are easier to read. This is true both for internal and external communications. For example, a tech company may run readability on an instructional manual it composed for its users. Furthermore, if that tech company uses the Content Analytics Platform (CAP) from Scion Analytics it can take advantage of creating dictionaries.

By using dictionaries in readability, a business can specific words that it wants to avoid in writing, jargon, inappropriate phrases, cliches, and legal risk words. The flexibility and customization of a dictionary help businesses ensure that their message is easy to communicate to the intended audience.

Marketing

Finally, readability is widely used by marketing departments to assess how well readers engage with digital marketing materials. Running readability of online texts such as blog posts, web pages, and articles can help professionals establish metrics for text. Using metrics, these professionals can improve the text to get better business results.

Conclusion

Readability is a practice and a tool that can help businesses communicate more effectively. Its adherence to plain language and reliance on short sentences, simple words, and easy to digest language makes it indispensable in engaging the reader with the right message.

How Readability Score Empowers Content

How Readability Score Empowers Content

In the digital marketing space, content is king. That is collective knowledge. This position of honor was bestowed upon the written word in the early days of the Internet when AOL was cool and dial up was exciting. As the digital stratosphere, evolved from LiveJournals and MySpace to WordPress and Facebook, content strategy became more sophisticated gaining metrics, followings, and power of influence.

The Power Of Content 

The way marketers produce, and readers consume content has evolved. Brands learned from the growing pains of informational lists and posts to captivate readers with stories. Storytelling became pervasive in marketing, but it is a tactic only as good as the story.

The question remains how to make content that is engaging with a high conversion rate. While marketers have found that producing a mass amount of content creates leverage it does not always translate into performance. As the analysis and targeting of content becomes more intelligent, a well-kept resource remains untapped by smart marketers. 

What is the resource that makes content more effective?

The readability score of the content.

Because there is a difference between content being generated and content that people read. What is readability? It measures how easy it is for a person to read a piece of content. More specifically, a readability score lets the marketer know what grade of education someone needs to understand the content being created.

What makes readability score powerful?

Readability Score 

The average American reads at an 8th grade level.

That’s a groundbreaking statistic to be considered by marketers. Content that is above 8th grade level of education risks to be disregarded and ignored. Why? Because readers are frustrated and bored by what they do not understand.

For example, the average bounce rate is between 41% and 50%. This means that half of visitors landing on websites leave immediately. How much does the readability and engagement of content play a role in that statistic? A study showed that most users read only 20% of a website. A depressing statistic but nonetheless if 1,440 blogs are published every 60 seconds that is a staggering amount of competition for eyeballs.

Elements
Of Good Readability Score 

  • Too much jargon- Jargon is regarded as words or expression by a particular group that is hard to understand to outsiders. Especially, in the proposal management industry, there is a lot of industry specific terminology which may be confusing to the average reader.  
  • Passive voice- Plain language as the standard for readability cautions against the use of passive voice in a sentence. In passive voice, the subject is acted upon by a verb. Active voice is more confident with the subject acting with the verb which provides more clarity for the reader.
  • Long sentences- One thought per sentence is the goal of good readability. Long sentences with convoluted logic and punctuation are frustrating. This syntax often loses the reader before the first comma.
  • Excessive use of adverbs- Adverbs are typically used to express manner, frequency, time, or level of certainty. However, when overly used or misplaced adverbs can comprise the readability of the content.

These are the guidelines from a technical standpoint that enhance readability. However, there is a tangible emotional component to content and how it is read by an audience. According to Neil Patel, online influencer, the marketers need to understand that: “content that people love and content that people read is almost the same thing”.

Content with good readability opens the reader to the story. It is easy to digest, engaging and relatable like a good book. As content scales new heights in sophistication and relevance, the readability score is a hidden metric that can have powerful results on performance.

Plain Language In The Time of COVID-19

Plain Language In The Time of COVID-19

There are few moments in history that stop the world.

The global spread of COVID-19 in 2020 was one of those moments. Society, businesses, and individuals pivoted amidst waves of panic and unrest to find a new normal. What does the new normal look like? How long does it linger? Will society ever return to the status quo? These are questions that businesses had to address internally and externally as operations shifted to remote conditions.

Businesses Respond To COVID-19

There was a constant that remained in the face of chaos, the importance of clear communication. Across the world, every business from small business to enterprise level had to issue a response to COVID-19. Whether a press release or a company policy, the businesses needed to relate a message to the consumer of safety and continuity in unprecedented conditions.

The power of plain language in such communications was evident. For example, New York governor Andrew Cuomo was praised by the press for his action-oriented message to the constituents. He used short sentences that contained one thought per sentences. He was concise in his delivery of a grim reality.

 He used plain language.

Plain Language Effective In Time of Crisis 

Plain language has become instrumental in communication. In fact, in 2010 President Obama signed the Plain Language Act into law requiring a standard of communication for government agencies. The premise behind standardizing communication is the accessibility and clear message of plain language. Short sentences that contain one thought. An 8th grade readability that reduces barriers to understanding. The average American reads at an 8th grade level. A fact that is vital to consider when communicating messages with instructions for safety or to an audience that is multitasking during a crisis.

Power Of Plain Language 

Plain language uses active voice instead of passive. Sentences that use active voice are clear in who is taking the action. The shift may be subtle however in a time of crisis there is no room for ambiguity. “You must use hand sanitizer after every meal” is more commanding than “Hand sanitizer must be used after every meal”.     

The choice of words is important for plain language. Messaging that is most effective uses everyday language. During crisis, the goal is to simplify and unify language. For example, COVID- 19 has been referred to in different ways in the press: “COVID”, “coronavirus”, “corona”, “SARS-CoV-2”. Such inconsistency confuses the reader and reduces the emphasis behind the message.

While plain language is the standard for clear communication, there is more to messaging than sentence structure, voice, and syntax. A message, especially in a time of crisis carries an emotional component to the audience. Given the impact and severity of COVID-19, businesses are learning the nuance of emotional crisis messaging. For every business that delivers a cut and dry press release, there is a business that innovates by including notes of empathy in the message.

Emotional Crisis Messaging 

Empathy is showing the humanity behind the communications and it works beautifully with plain language to soothe the reader. Even Governor Cuomo is his grim address of certainty to New York had a tone of conviction and leadership that comforted the distressed state with a gentle hand.

Plain language in times of crisis gives the reader trust and clarity in response to uncertainty. In a historical moment for the world, that’s a lot to give.