How to write in plain English

Plain English Campaign: Free guides: How to write in plain English

So what’s plain English?

First let’s say what plain English isn’t and destroy some of the myths about it.

  • It’s not ‘cat sat on the mat’ or ‘Peter and Jane’ writing. Almost anything – from leaflets and letters to legal documents – can be written in plain English without being patronising or over-simple.
  • It doesn’t mean reducing the length or changing the meaning of your message. Most of the UK’s biggest insurance companies produce policies that explain everything fully in plain English.
  • It’s not about banning new words, killing off long words or promoting completely perfect grammar. Nor is it about letting grammar slip.
  • It is not an amateur’s method of communication. Most forward-looking senior managers always write in plain English.
  • And finally, it is not as easy as we would like to think.

Sadly, thanks to the bureaucrats of public service industries, local councils, banks, building societies, insurance companies and government departments, we have learned to accept an official style of writing that is inefficient and often unfriendly. But in the last few years, many of these offenders have started to put things right, either rewriting their documents clearly or training their staff in the art of plain English or both.

The main advantages of plain English are:

  • it is faster to write;
  • it is faster to read; and
  • you get your message across more often, more easily and in a friendlier way.

If you spend more than an hour a day writing, you are to an extent a professional writer. So it’s vital that you get it right.

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