Plain English, or as some would call it, the Queen’s English, sends a clear message of transparency; that you are not hiding behind unnecessarily complex language. Yet how often have you picked up a report, or received a letter that’s crammed with complex sentences and buzz words? It may be written in English, but it makes no sense whatsoever.
Plain English editing is a specialist skill. Contrary to what many people believe, plain English is not ‘dumbing down’. It’s about getting to the point so we can all get on with our work and our busy lives. A plain English editor will approach your document from three different angles.
The structure is like the frame of a building. If this isn’t right, the whole building is jeopardised. At this stage of the editing process we will ensure:
- The document structure is clear and logical and stated at the beginning of the document
- Key points, arguments or outcomes are at the beginning of each section
- Headings and subheadings are meaningful and indicate the subject matter of the section
- Paragraphs contain 3 to 4 sentences each, on average
- Text boxes, tables, graphs and charts are appropriate to the content
- Bulleted lists exceed no more than 6 to 7 points, on average, and follow parallel structure.
Once the structure is in place, we will look at the tone, terminology and readability. We will ensure:
- The tone is both professional and appropriate
- Sentences are clear and concise and between 15 and 20 words on average
- The document averages less than 20% passive voice
- Bulleted lists exceed no more than 6 to 7 points and follow parallel structure.
3. Grammar and style
To give the document a final professional polish we will:
- Ensure correct grammar and punctuation
- Apply consistent style conventions, such as inverted commas and spelling
- Format heading levels (heading hierarchy) consistently
- Ensure consistency with your writing style guide or the Australian Style Manual for Authors Editors and Printers.
Specialists in plain English writing and editing, Concise Writing Consultancy works with private and government organisations to make their internal and external communications clear and concise. Not only does this increase efficiency, it projects a polished and professional image.