What is 'plain English'?
Plain English gets its meaning across successfully to its intended readers
There's no single, universally accepted definition of what plain English is, but the one we like is this:

A message is in plain English if it gets its meaning across clearly and concisely to its intended audience, and creates the impression the writer was intending to create.

Of course, this is just a definition and so is more about theory than practice.
In more practical terms, if you're checking a piece of writing, ask yourself:
Is the language appropriate for the intended readers, and as clear as it can be?
Does the written style create the right impression? How would I feel if I was the reader?
Is the design and layout as clear as possible?
Is it easy for the reader to find their way around the document, be it a website or printed document?
When you write, use:
everyday words wherever possible, and explain any technical terms you have to use
'you' and 'we' instead of 'the applicant', 'the borrower', 'the bank', 'the company' and so on
short sentences. Stick to one or two ideas in most of your sentences, and aim for an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words throughout the document
active verbs, rather than passive verbs. In other words, write 'We will pay this when we get your letter . . .' rather than 'Payment will be made when your letter is received . . .'
plenty of 'signposts' to help your reader find what they are looking for. These include contents lists, headings and sub-headings, and lists of key features (like this one)
a line length of between 45 and 60 characters, depending on the type size
plenty of 'white space' on the page, to avoid clutter and make the page look easy to read
a type face that your readers can read easily, bearing in mind their age and likely reading ability.

How do I know I've succeeded?

There's only one way to find out for sure, and that's to ask your readers. So always be prepared to get feedback from your readers, ideally before you publish or go to print. All you need to do is get together a sample group of your readers or intended readers, and find out how well they understand your message and what impression it's getting across.

Any other questions?

If you'd like more information about using plain English and how this could help your organisation, please email us or phone 0114 2571400 and ask for Dave Fox.
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