Don’t confuse plain language with tone

What is plain language?

Plain language means presenting information in a way that your target audience can understand and use. It is a set of linguistic principles that you apply, for example:

  • simple syntax
  • active voice
  • a user-focused information structure
  • clear headings  
  • no culturally bound words or metaphors

For example: the metaphor, ‘we wash our hands of jargon’ shows a conversational tone but is not plain language. ‘We don’t use jargon’ is a better way of writing this in plain language.

What is tone?

A plain-language sentence can be expressed in many tones: it can be polite, condescending, quirky, irreverent, fun, youthful, informal or stuffy. Tone-of-voice considers two elements:

  • brand personality (often referred to as ‘voice’)
  • the context you’re writing in

A brand might have an irreverent tone for its marketing content (where the personality is most important) but be more neutral in its legal contract (where the context is most important).

Some principles: Don’t confuse plain language with a quirky tone

There are three key principles:

  1. We don’t remove plain language for the sake of a ‘fun’ tone. So we stay away from slang and culturally bound metaphor.
  2. We’re careful of going very informal or quirky for legal content: user testing shows us that customers find this to be condescending, especially when they are rightfully concerned about the contracts that bind them.
  3. If there are clauses that are not good to the consumer (liability clauses often), we spell this out. We don’t hide information ever.


We favour truth over spin.


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