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.