Plain Language Tips for Making Your Writing Easier to Understand

1. Identify your audience. Keep in mind their average level of understanding.

2. Focus on the reader, not on yourself. Don’t ask, “What do I want to say? Ask, “What do you need to know?”
3. Put your information in a logical order. Organize it to answer questions in the order the reader would ask them. Outline the information you want the reader to understand before you start writing.

4. Use headings and consider using question headings.

5. Use short paragraphs and sentences.

6. Use pronouns and speak directly to the reader.

7. Use active voice. Using active voice clarifies who is doing what; passive voice obscures it. We structure active sentences with the actor first (as the subject), then the verb, then the object of the action.

8. Use lists.

9. Use tables, graphics, and examples.

10. Use everyday words.

11. Don’t sound so bureaucratic. Avoid:

            - Overuse of acronyms

           - Jargon

            - Verbatim quotations from laws and regulations. Paraphrase instead.

            - Legalese (terms like “shall” and “herein”)

            - Hidden verbs (see table below)

Don’t use…

Use…

Conduct an analysis

Analyze

Provide assistance

Help

Do an assessment

Assess

Present a report

Report


Last updated:April 23, 2010