Using plain English to unravel your remote strategic paradigm shifts

Getting to grips with plain EnglishI know. The title of this blog post doesn’t make any sense!

Let me explain…

I recently received an email. The same email was sent to a wider group of people and after we had all read the message, we began to talk about it.

It soon became clear that although we had read the same content, some of us had understood different things. I read over the email again and realised that the email was open to interpretation because the language used wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

The email got me thinking – unsurprisingly – about website content, and how information can be misunderstood, or, as is the case with the title of this post, can leave the reader quite baffled.

So why the odd title?

I worked for local government for a number of years and was constantly surprised at the amount of printed (and web) material that sounded impressive but was often padded with words that had no meaning.

A lot of the information was written from a corporate standpoint using words and jargon that were perfectly understandable to those who had experience of that particular topic (jargon or in-phrase), but not to anyone else.

And so began my quest for plain English online.

What is plain English?

Wikipedia offers the following explanation: ‘Plain English (sometimes referred to more broadly as plain language) is a generic term for communication styles that emphasise clarity, brevity and the avoidance of technical language.’

In other words, content written in plain English is easy to understand, uncomplicated and jargon-free.

Reasons for using plain English

There many sound reasons for using plain English in your web content:

  • your information will make more sense and therefore be readily understood by those who read it
  • your content will be accessible to everyone because they don’t have to be an expert in your field of work to read and understand your content
  • your web visitors will be much more likely to take the next step – e.g. buy your product or service, sign up for your newsletter or interact with you via your website if they understand what you mean and aren’t alienated by a wall of incomprehensible content.

Clear, easy-to-understand content will go a long way towards improving users’ experience of your website and their ability to explore what it has to offer, take action and become a repeat visitor.

How to use plain English on your website in 8 steps

To avoid misunderstanding or confusion:

  1. use fewer and shorter words
  2. use simple/concise words
  3. avoid the use of jargon
  4. if you must use jargon – always include an explanation
  5. avoid the passive voice: go for the active voice (you will also use fewer words).  Compare: ‘the company is a provider of blood plasma products’ with the active voice version: ‘we provide blood plasma products’.
  6. always explain abbreviations and acronyms the first time they appear on every web page
  7. don’t use two words that mean the same thing in the same sentence e.g. ‘contact me for further help and assistance’
  8. organise your content so that it follows a logical sequence and makes sense

Plain English examples

Here are some examples of words and expressions that you can ‘convert’ into plain English:

use – instead of utilise

help – instead of assistance

payment – instead of remittance

about – instead of in respect of

stop – instead of call a halt

near – instead of in the vicinity

Gobbledygook Generator

The title of this post was inspired by the Plain English Campaign’s Gobbledygook Generator.

To try out the tool for yourself, visit:

Plain English Campaign – Gobbledygook Generator

Post written by DEBBIE THOMAS on 28 January 2011.