What Wikipedia doesn’t tell you about plain English

20 December 2019

Plain English is not a new concept in the workplace. The NRMA recognised its value over 30 years ago when they produced plain English policies to help their customers make informed choices. Yet,  the uptake of clear, concise writing has been slow in some industries putting organisations at risk. Why is the quest for clear written communication so challenging?

Good writing takes both effort and time. When deadlines are tight there is a temptation to dash off a first draft and submit it in its rough state. You congratulate yourself on meeting your deadline. Seeing the words on the page may give you the illusion that you have been productive. But words are just words.

If your words are not carefully crafted and focused on your readers’ needs, your communication may fail to get the right results. Rush the writing process and your communication could come back to bite you with lost productivity through misunderstandings or damage to reputation as a result of errors.

How plain English enhances communication

Most people find it easier to write long, winding sentences and randomly structured paragraphs than clear, concise sentences and well-structured paragraphs. Yet, the minimum requirements for a well-written, professional plain English communication are:

  • a logical flow of information
  • inclusion of easy-reading devices such as text boxes and bulleted lists
  • informative headings and subheadings
  • clear and concise sentences between 15 and 20 words on average
  • correctly structured paragraphs
  • explanations of unfamiliar terminology 
  • a consistent tone suitable for your audience and purpose
  • a professional and consistent style
  • correct punctuation and grammar.

It’s normal for a first draft to be wordier than it needs to be, but the only way to achieve a better result is to refine your draft at least once. For more complex reports and publications, you may need several iterations of refinement.

How a professional plain English writer can add value to your communications

It takes a multi-disciplined team to write high-quality reports and other publications. Ideally, team members will have different skills and strengths. For example, subject matter experts add high value to the content through their professional expertise, but may not be skilled at writing clearly and concisely. Other team members may be good at writing high-level summaries while others are detail-oriented and good at picking up errors.

While much of the drafting can occur in-house within your own teams, there are times when calling in an external plain English writer will add enormous value to your communications:

  • If you know what you want to write about but don’t know how to write it down
  • If you are knowledgeable in your own field but don’t feel confident about your writing ability
  • If you need to produce a highly professional and polished document
  • If you need to communicate complex or technical information to a lay audience
  • If you are short of time
  • If your documents are not getting the results you need
  • If your business writing is resulting in decreased efficiency and productivity.

Good writing is always worth the effort. For your next project, experience the joy of working with a professional writer and editor. Not only will your document be more professional and effective, your stress levels will also be reduced and you will have more time to work on other critical tasks.

For an obligation free consultation and sample edit, contact Concise Writing Consultancy today on 02 9238 6638

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