Here are some plain English principles for you to apply to your everyday writing. Try them out and notice the difference. It can take a while to retrain yourself to write this way, but it’s worth the effort.

Think ahead

Ask yourself the following questions before you start to write.

  • What do I want this piece of writing to do?
  • What are its aims and outcomes?
  • Who are my readers?
  • What do they need to learn/know?

Structure

Structure your writing. How you do this is up to you. Some people write out main headings and subheadings. Some people make out a list of points, in a logical order. Some people use mind maps. Use whatever method you feel comfortable with.

Talk to your reader

You don’t speak to people in a formal and intimidating way, so don’t write like that. Talk to your reader directly – call them ‘you’. If you are talking about your business or organisation, use ‘we’ or ‘I’.

Use simple, straightforward words

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that by using simple, straightforward words you are patronising your reader. There will probably be times when you have to use technical or complicated vocabulary because that’s what your reader requires. That’s fine, as long as your writing is clear and direct.

Words and phrases to avoid

There are lots of words and phrases that are overused. They act as padding and don’t add anything to your text. It’s best to avoid them. Here are four of the most common, with suggested alternatives:

phrase alternative
with regards to about
for the purposes of for
in order to to
with reference to about

 

Keep sentences and paragraphs short and concise

Avoid long, multi-clause sentences and try to keep sentences to between 15 to 20 words. A paragraph should contain one idea.

Use lists with bullet points

If you have to cover a lot of information, then use lists with bullet points. As a reader, it’s easier to take in small chunks of information rather than wade through a page of text that goes on and on and on …

Use active rather than passive

An active clause is where a does something to b. For example:

He wrote a report.

A passive clause is where b is done by a. For example:

The report was written by him.

The passive voice can make the text more clumsy and long-winded (you’re adding in unnecessary words). It can also depersonalise the text and make it confusing. And because you’re not talking directly to your reader, you lose your direct, approachable tone.

Use active wherever possible.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and have a good week!

Sue.