You are currently viewing Is writing in ‘plain English’ a scourge?

Let’s not get our knickers in a twist; life is too short! Here’s the thing: using plain English isn’t dumbing down your written content.

When writing or editing content for others, communications practitioners worth their salt will always keep their audience in mind and find the clearest and most effective way to convey the message. But boy oh boy, some people are very precious about the drafts they write. Filled to the brim with all the technical terms they cherish and organisational jargon, some will do their best to protect their precious from the meddling hands of a ‘comms person’.

After all, who would want to change ‘getting bang for our buck’ into ‘getting the most for our money’? And how about discussing the ‘core competencies’ of the organisation? Heaven forbid that we should discuss the ‘basic strength of an organisation’. And of course, some prefer to ‘drill down’ into something to looking at a problem in detail. Let’s not even consider that it may be better to do research before making a business decision, as we could always do some ‘due diligence’!

While many people are open to considering the editorial improvements a communications person proposes, some have been known to be a bit grumpy – until a trust relationship develops between them. When sceptics accept the suggested improvements, even reluctantly, it doesn’t take long for metrics to show a higher ‘click rate’ and dwell time on web content. Then people begin to understand why it is better to use plain English when writing.

But back to the initial resistance. The first objection is usually centred on an argument of authority, if not snobbery: we don’t need plain English because we didn’t learn it at university. Another reason given is that readers are intelligent enough, or experts in their field. Then there’s the myth that readers won’t take you seriously if you write plainly – and so the traditional formal approach is maintained.

Plain English (also called plain language or plain writing) is communication your readers and listeners can understand the first time they read or hear it. It helps you write clearly, as brief as it should be to convey the message, and the content feels well-organised.

This writing approach helps you get your message across in the shortest time possible, and more people can understand it. It also means there is less chance that your document will be misunderstood, so you spend less time explaining it to people. Benefits all around.

The basic truth is that the use of plain language helps you to communicate well with your clients and customers, and you can give them what they want: information that is accessible and easy to understand. This is the best way to start changing passive readers into acting on the information in your content.

So, rather than ‘dumbing down’ your content when using plain English, you are making it smarter.

Using plain English can be your friend!