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.

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How to tell if content is clear: plain-language assessment

Most of us know that clear communication (or plain language) is needed. But there is less agreement on what makes language clear. What does clear communication look like? How do you know if your content complies with the many laws and regulations that require clarity? How do you set up a plain-language assessment that works?

Key points of this overview:

To comply with laws and regulations that mandate plain language, you need to find a way of assessing whether content is clear. Readability formulas aren’t fit for purpose. We suggest that you use reader-focused testing instead, and measure results against an established standard for plain language. Pay attention to the ‘why’ of plain language. Ty to set up creative ways to measure the  clarity of communication in terms of strategic goals such as fairness and transparency.

Read more in our white paper on plain-language assessments.

Insurance jargon simplified

No longer do consumers tolerate ‘small print’ and unnecessary jargon in insurance. Increasingly, these are viewed as wilful barriers to the truth – as WMDs (Words of Mass Deception). Organisations that continue to use them risk losing the trust of their stakeholders.

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To reap the rewards of clear communication, you must test your documents with customers

Many UK companies are investing in improving their customer communications so that they are written clearly, in a way that´s aligned with Treating Customers Fairly and the Consumer Rights Act. But how do you measure if you are achieving this goal when there are no objective criteria for clear communication or plain language?

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Plain English and Treating Customers Fairly audits

Large companies produce thousands of documents, from adverts to customer-service letters, from annual reports to supplier agreements. A company-wide plain English and Treating Customers Fairly audit allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses, and understand where to focus your efforts.

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Building reputation as a transparent investment company

A leading investment firm uses plain English and transparency to differentiate itself from its competitors and build its reputation.

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The Consumer Rights Act and training in clear communication

The Consumer Rights Act was an important development in the rapid and ongoing transformation of the consumer landscape. Social media activism, regulatory intervention, and an increasingly  informed consumer all mean that fairness, transparency, and simplicity in corporate communication are under the spotlight.

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Plain language and design – five tips

The words in your email, brochure or report may be brilliant, but if your document is not supported by good design you’ll lose your readers from the start. Here are some tips for design that’s appealing to look at and easy to read.

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Business speak in business writing: four reasons not to use it

Corporate lingo, management jargon, business speak … whatever you choose to call it, just don’t use it. It’s confusing, alienating, unproductive and embarrassing.  (Guest post by Simplified business writing trainer, Melissa Davidson) Read more

What is plain English?

Plain English is when a reader can find, understand and use the information they need from a piece of communication. Plain English includes a range of elements such as the use of everyday words instead of jargon and legalese, and short, active sentences instead of long-winded passive sentences. But plain language isn’t only about words and grammar. How well a document or website is structured, how easy it is to navigate, the visual design, and the usefulness and relevance of its content all form part of plain English. Read more