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Plain Language

Plain language is clear and avoids complex words. It is easy to read, understand, and act upon after just one reading.

These are the main traits of plain English:

  • Use of commonly understood words

  • Use of the fewest words necessary

  • Sentences are up to 15-20 words

  • Paragraphs have up to 6-8 lines

To achieve plain writing, one must watch for:

  • Prepositions

  • Superlatives

  • Wordy phrases (e.g., passive voice)

Simple, shorter sentences highlight key ideas. Subject + Verb + Object phrases work best. Reading aloud helps detect unclear and poor wording.

The goal of plain language is to produce texts that are concise and have a clear purpose. One must avoid:

  • Multisyllabic words

  • Cliches

  • Business jargon

  • Vague words

Plain writing is not only about words and tone. It also involves using easy-to-read designs. That may include using bullet points and internal headings.

READ: Why use plain English?

Readability checkers like the Gunning Fox Index help define how easy it is to read a text. Texts aimed at the general public have a fog index of less than 12. An index of 8 or less is vital to reach an even wider audience.

When I first drafted this post, the fog index was 11. Since my goal was to use plain writing, I scored 7 after revision.

To sum it up, plain language:

  • Has a clear goal

  • Must answer questions

  • Omits unneeded details

  • Has a positive and conversational tone

  • Is easy to read

  • Uses proper grammar and spelling

If you want to learn more, check the course Writing in Plain English.


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