Plain English: help your audience understand

Sometimes words get stuck in my throat. Chemo brain, apparently I have it.  I pull the 'cancer card' if I lose a word. Then I get -  "You had cancer? It must be hard to know what you want to say, but struggle to say it." 

HELL yes it is!

My words rarely get stuck on my fingertips. So here's some help to connect with your audience beyond the punchy social media post.

Write in plain English

Writing in plain English is more direct. It removes the fluffy hoo haa (this word isn't plain English but it's fun to say). It gets rid of the words that waste my audience's time – and keeps the words that help them understand quickly.

Your audience's ability to read

 Around 44% of Australian adults don't have the reading skills needed for daily life. "WOW!" you say.  Don't be sad. They might read really well in another language, or have amazing skills in other areas. But for those of you who like to use big words....stop it! You're ignoring a big chunk of your audience.

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Dumbing it down

Some people will roll their eyes and say, "So you dumb it down."  Stringing long words together  doesn't make my audience think, "She knows what she's talking about. I need her." It usually makes them groan, and think "I don't have time for this" And hit the x.

Imagine your audience.  Are they are all healthy university educated professionals in your field who get excited about your high-brow musings?...No? Then use everyday language to help them understand immediately. Here's a great example from Plain English Campaign UK.

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Keep it simple

The way you put a sentence together can help people focus on their task, make a decision...or bore them stupid. So:

  • remove unnecessary phrases - eg Please be advised that

  • use less nouns and more verbs

  • cut back on your adjectives

  • focus on the subject and the verb in the sentence, not the object.

More or less words

Sometimes we edit to reduce the length of the page. Good! But sometimes a longer sentence using everyday words is better. It can stop people pausing in the middle of a sentence to try and work out what you mean. It can also help people visualise what you are saying. 

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Is this blog in plain English?

Yes, even if I have included some fluffy hoo har. This type of blog is storytelling. It's conversational. But the principles of plain English are here - the short direct sentences, the everyday language, more verbs and less long nouns.

Writing a standard web page has a different focus because your audience doesn't want to spend a lot of time reading it. This is where you get tough on editing. Cull! And get to the point.

Your privacy policy will be more formal and have more detail. But your audience still needs to understand it.  So keep the plain English principles in mind when writing formally.

Here is some light reading for you...The Gobbledygook Manifesto by David Meerman Scott

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