Write for the average reader
A plain English document uses words economically and at a level the audience can understand. Its sentence structure is tight. Its tone is welcoming and direct. Its design is visually appealing. A plain English document is easy to read and looks like it’s meant to be read.
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Writing in Plain English- Style & Guidelines
1. Try personal pronouns
No matter how sophisticated your audience is, if you use personal pronouns the clarity of your writing will dramatically improve. Here’s why?
First, personal pronouns aid your reader’s comprehension because they clarify what applies to your reader and what applies to you.
Second, they allow you to “speak” directly to your reader, creating an appealing tone that will keep your reader reading.
Third, they help you to avoid abstractions and to use more concrete and everyday language.
Fourth, first- and second-person pronouns aren’t gender-specific, allowing you to avoid the “he or she” dilemma. The pronouns to use are first person plural (we, us, our/ours) and second-person singular (you, your/yours).
2. Use active voice
Active voice is more persuasive, decisive, and confident. In active sentences, an actor does something to a recipient. In passive voice sentences, the recipient is acted on by the actor.
• (Best—Active) The pilot landed the airplane safely
• (Poor—Passive) The airplane was landed safely by the pilot
• (Worst—passive, not actor) The airplane landed safely.
3. Use short sentences
English sentences can be pretty simple: subject—verb—object. If you mess with the order, then you have to know punctuation. Aim for an average sentence length of 15–17 words. To keep it from sounding choppy, vary sentence length.
• No person has been authorized to give any information or make any representation other than those contained or incorporated by reference in this joint proxy statement /prospectus, and, if given or made, such information or representation must not be relied upon as having been authorized.
• Plain English rewrite:
• You should rely only on the information contained in this document or that we have referred you to. We have not authorized anyone to provide you with information that is different.
4. Use the simplest tense possible
Present Tense: when you are talking about your general capabilities (that is how you generally do it)
Future Tense: where you are proposing something to implement (that is how you will do it for them specifically)
Past Tense: in case studies, past performance (that is how you did before with other clients)
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5. Use base verbs, not nominalizations
Avoid using verbs with “to be,” “to have,” or another weak verb, with a noun that could be turned into a strong verb. In these sentences, the strong verb lies hidden in a nominalization, a noun derived from a verb that usually ends in -tion. Find the noun and try to make it the main verb of the sentence. As you change nouns to verbs, your writing becomes more vigorous and less abstract.
you change nouns to verbs, your writing becomes more vigorous and less abstract.
6. Eliminate redundant words
Redundant words unnecessarily qualify other words or phrases. Eliminate them.
Here are a few examples:
• actual experience (experience)
• past experience (experience)
• close proximity (near)
• have the ability to (can)
• plan in advance (plan)
• qualified expert (expert)
7. Omit superfluous words
Words are superfluous when they can be replaced with fewer words that mean the same thing.
Use a simpler word for these phrases as mentioned in exampleas:
8. Minimize jargon
• Jargon can be
1. familiar language used in unfamiliar ways,
2. technical or specialized language, known among a group or profession, or
3. a combination of both.
• In complex, technical proposals, some jargon is needed to be correct and precise. When a carpenter talks about a rafter or a stud, the meaning is precise. However, proposals are filled with unneeded business jargon. Minimize jargon. Define it for non-experts. Replace it with plain English when feasible.
Here are a few examples:
• No brainer (meaning, if you don‘t see it as clearly as I do, then you‘re not as smart as I am)
• Value-added (often used as a synonym for solution; or anything you can‘t charge for because the client doesn‘t value it enough to pay for it; or something that we think is great, but we have no idea what it‘s worth)
• Core competencies (as opposed to core incompetencies?)
• Interface with (are you going to call then, write them, or kiss them?)
• On a regular basis, or regularly (hourly, daily, monthly, or yearly? How do you price this?)
9. Use “must” to express requirements; avoid the ambiguous word “shall”
10. Use Simple Sentences
• Keep the subject, verb, and object close together put exceptions last; place modifiers correctly
• The natural word order of English speakers is subject-verb-object. Your sentences will be clearer if you follow this order as closely as possible. In disclosure documents, this order is frequently interrupted by modifiers.
11. Avoid superlatives like (best-of-breed, best-in-class etc.) (best-of-breed, best-in-class etc.)
12. Use lists and tables to simplify complex material.
13. Use no more than two or three subordinate levels.
14. Use short sections.
15. Use one voice in Client Name (Team ABC).
Warren Buffet writes like he speaks. His communication is direct, immediate and without pretense. On giving his wisdom on successful communication he says, “write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform. No siblings to write to? Borrow mine: Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie.”