Making your written communication clear
Publications guidance - general requirements
There are 2 steps to making information easy to understand
What is plain English? Plain English is a message, written with the reader in mind that is clear and concise.
There are five rules to follow regarding the use of plain English:
Rule 1: Prepare
- Who is it for?
- What are you aiming for?
- What is the key message?
- What are the main points?
- Talk it through with people
Rule 2: Use Easy Words
Use everyday words.
Use words that you use in everyday talk
For example, rather than saying. ‘in the event of’ you can use ‘if’ and instead of ‘consequently’ you could use ‘so’
Look at the A to Z of alternative words at the Plain English Campaign website
Use ‘you’ and ‘we’
Using ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ make information seem easier to understand and friendlier.
So instead of 'applicants must send us' use 'you must send us'
Be consistent and repeat words
Repeating words and phrases helps people understand and retain the information.
Don’t use jargon
If you need to use jargon, then explain what it stands for.
e.g.‘The Care Programme Approach or CPA for short’
Avoid meaningless words and phrases
e.g.‘As far as I’m concerned’, ‘I am of the opinion that’, ‘really’
e.g.‘At the end of the day’, ‘Keep your eye on the ball’, ‘Skating on thin ice’
A nominalisation is an abstract noun that is formed from a verb.
e.g.Completion (to complete), Introduction (to introduce) or we had a discussion about we discussed …
Quantity, size and time
Be clear! Words like ‘few’, ‘quite’, ‘nearly’ and ‘some’ are difficult to define. Some people find numbers and time difficult, e.g. 24 hour clock or ‘4 in the afternoon’
Rule 3: Use Easy Sentences
Use short sentences
- 15 words or less
- Keep sentences to one line
- Don’t let sentences run over to the next page
Use active sentences
Ed hit Peter’ = active
Peter was hit by Ed’ = passive
e.g. ‘Drinks can be bought in the bar‘ becomes ‘You can buy drinks in the bar’
Use positive sentences
Negatives can be hard to understand.
e.g. ‘Do not give skimmed milk to babies under 6 months becomes 'You can give skimmed milk to babies over 6 months old’
Use the right order
e.g. ‘Switch on the kettle after filling it with water’ becomes 'Fill the kettle with water. Then switch it on’
Rule 4: Make it Chunky
Information is easier to understand when it is presented in a series of chunks. Each chunk should focus on one main idea.
Use white space on the page to break up written information.
Use headings that describe what you want your readers to be able to do or know when they have read that section of information.
e.g. ‘Causes of depression’ ‘Understanding depression’
Use bullet points and lists
Lists are a good way to split up information
Try to write each new point as a complete sentence
Rule 5: Make it Relevant
Make you information relevant to your audience by using quotes or stories that are relevant to them
Gender, age, ethnicity and sex
Make sure your information doesn’t just reflect the experiences of white, heterosexual people.
People will ignore information if it doesn’t reflect their lives.
Up to date
Try and include a phone number or e-mail address where people can get help or information but remember that this information needs updating.