Plain English editing, writing and training service -
provided by the National Adult Literacy Agency.

How to write in plain English

Tips not rules

These plain English writing tips are not rules but guidelines to help improve your written information. Not all the tips will apply to every reader or every document, but they will go a long way towards making your information understandable to everyone.

The top five plain English writing tips

Think of the person you are writing to and why you are writing

Ask yourself what words or concepts the person is likely to know already, what tone and amount of detail is suitable and what message they are supposed to get from your information.

Be personal and direct

Don't be afraid to use 'we' for your organisation and 'you' for the reader. As much as possible, say who is doing what, for example 'We will write to you' instead of 'A letter will be sent'.

Keep it simple

Try not to inflict corporate language on the public - it doesn't serve them or your organisation's reputation! Avoid other complicated and foreign terms if you can use a plainer alternative to get your message across just as accurately.

Define or spell out any unavoidable jargon and abbreviations

If you must use a technical word because there is no plain alternative to it, define the term the first time you use it. The same applies to abbreviations - spell them out, especially if you intend to use them several times.

Keep sentences to an average of 15 to 20 words

Think about the point you want each sentence to make and stick to it. Try not to pad out your message with wordy and formal phrases such as 'in the event of', 'in accordance with' or 'subsequent to'.

Writing in plain English takes practice. But if you follow these five plain English writing tips you will make your information easier to understand.