Why should I use plain English?

Using plain English puts your reader first – whether they’re a customer, a colleague or a member of the public.

There is a business case for it. It builds your reputation – the documents we produce are an important part of our image. An organisation’s image might suffer if its documents are carelessly written, pompous, bureaucratic or hard to understand.

It saves time – it’s faster to write (once you get into the habit) and faster to read. And it saves time and money wasted on clearing up misunderstandings.

It gets your message across more effectively and often in a friendlier, more direct and more open way.

Will a plain-English edit dumb down my text?

No. Complex ideas, such as those in terms and conditions, can still be expressed in plain language without being patronising or oversimplified. Plain English isn’t about using the shortest words – it’s more about avoiding unfamiliar ones.

What documents would benefit?

Any document that provides information or asks the reader to take action would benefit. Here are a few examples.

  • Application forms and guidance notes
  • Contracts and agreements
  • Information leaflets (for example, about recycling, keeping warm in cold weather, or preventing illness)
  • Instructions
  • Policies and procedures (company or public)
  • Product and service descriptions
  • Public consultation documents
  • Reports
  • Safety information
  • Service standards
  • Terms and conditions
  • Training courses
  • Websites and other marketing documents.

My document uses specialist terminology. Will you change this?

Sometimes, a specialist term is the best way to describe something, especially if your readers are familiar with it. A plain-language alternative might be too wordy to use each time, or might not be as easily understood by a specialist readership. In this case, we can agree on terms that should not be changed. If your readers may include people who are not as familiar with the specialist terms, we can add a glossary or explain them the first time they are used.

Will a plain-English edit change the meaning?

My aim is to make your meaning clearer, not to alter it. A plain-English edit will make the meaning clearer and less vague. If part of the original text is too ambiguous to edit without the possibility of changing the meaning, I’ll ask you to explain it first.

What can I expect from a plain-English edit?

You can expect editing suggestions that focus on improving the clarity at sentence and paragraph level. I use techniques to make your language more direct, concise and straightforward, avoiding repetition, jargon and ambiguity. Usually, I will do the following things.

  • Shorten sentences and split up longer ones
  • Replace overcomplicated or unusual words with more everyday alternatives
  • Use lists to display information more clearly
  • Make the language ‘active’ where appropriate (for example, ‘You must wear safety glasses’, not ‘safety glasses must be worn’)
  • Use positive language, as this is easier to process than negative language
  • Use ‘I’ and ‘we’
  • Remove inconsistencies that could cause confusion
  • Remove unnecessary repetition, ‘padding’ phrases like ‘I would be grateful if’, and so on
  • Explain acronyms and technical terms
  • Remove jargon
  • Highlight any parts that are not clear or contradict each other.

This is not a full list, and not all of these examples will apply to every document. For example, in manuals for employees with a certain level of technical knowledge, familiar technical terms wouldn’t need to be explained. Every project is different, so before I begin I will discuss this with you.

How much does it cost?

The costs for a plain-English edit are based on how complex the editing is as well as the length of the text. The cost is also higher for urgent work. If you’d like me to provide a quote, please send me your document and if it is urgent, let me know when you would like me to return it to you.

Will you provide a free sample?

If you would like me to provide a sample edit to show you how these techniques can help make your information clearer, please get in touch. I will edit part of the text to show you how a plain-English edit could make it clearer.

Can you provide comments about how I can improve my document, rather than a full edit?

Yes. I can provide a report on how you could make your document (or set of documents) clearer. I will identify where improvements can be made, provide ‘before and after’ examples based on the text in your documents, and explain the kinds of changes you could make to improve the clarity. If you then decide to go ahead with a full edit, I will offer you a discount. For more information, please contact me.

Will you check the grammar, spelling and punctuation?

Yes. The grammar, spelling and punctuation can affect the clarity, so I will correct any mistakes as part of the edit.

Will you keep to my house style?

If you have a house style that you need me to keep to, please send it to me beforehand. If there is anything in the house style that could affect the clarity, I will let you know. My editing suggestions are just that – suggestions. It is up to you which you choose to accept and which you reject.


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Free sample edit

If you would like me to show you how plain English could make your document clearer, please contact me about a sample edit.

Plain-English report

Would you prefer a report on how to make your document clearer? I’ll identify where improvements can be made, provide ‘before and after’ examples and explain what changes would improve the clarity. For more information, please contact me.

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