Using Plain English

When you use Plain English in your writing, you will help people to understand you. It’s a very direct way of writing, making readers feel as if you are talking straight to them. This means that readers will see you as both friendly and persuasive.

Although there are extra guidelines when you write emails and web pages, you can use Plain English at the same time.

To use Plain English, try following these basic ideas:

Use short sentences of about 15 to 20 words. It’s tempting to run lots of phrases together. Especially if you’re ‘on a roll’. But:

  • long sentences can be confusing.
  • they’re harder to follow, so you may end up losing your readers.
  • it’s easier to make sure you’ve written good, correct English if you keep it simple!

Use everyday words, not jargon. It’s not just about being understood, though this is important. When you use words that people are familiar with, they will see you as friendly. This means you are more likely to get your point across. So:

  • Use the more common version of two words if they mean the same thing.
  • Consider using contractions, such as it’s, he’s, she’ll, I’m, and we’re. But please bear in mind that many readers with English as a Second Language may find these difficult to understand.
  • Avoid using long-winded phrases and ‘office speak’.

Be personal. When possible, refer to yourself and IOSH or your network as ‘I’ and ‘we’. Once you’ve introduced IOSH or your network and explained what you do, use ‘we’ rather than ‘the Institution’. And speak directly to your readers by using ‘you’, not ‘readers’, ‘members’ or ‘delegates’.

Use active verbs. An active sentence is one where someone’s doing an action, such as ‘The woman bought the car’. A passive sentence has the action done by someone, such as ‘The car was bought by the woman’. Passive sentences tend to sound more impersonal and unfriendly. It’s usually a good idea to re-word sentences so they’re active. This is especially important when you’re talking about something you’re going to do or you want your readers to do.

Reveal your hidden verbs.
A ‘nominalisation’ is a noun made out of a verb. Some examples include: investigation (from investigate), removal (remove) and departure (depart). Nominalisations tend to hide the real meaning of the verb that’s struggling to get out, so your writing is less clear. For example, rather than saying ‘The thorough investigation of accidents is essential’, it’s clearer to say ‘It’s essential to investigate accidents thoroughly’.

[v1.1 - March 2016]