The importance of using Plain English when you write

Written on July 25, 2019

Something we’ve been working on a lot at Taxi for Email recently is the importance of using Plain English. I'm going to dive into what this means, and how this can help you.

So what is Plain English? The Plain English Campaign define it as “…a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.”

This doesn’t mean writing really simplistic, boring sentences. It means trimming out unnecessarily complicated words. It means writing in short, concise sentences. It means communicating effectively with your audience.

I’ve seen lots of criticism of Plain English in the past around how it can make a piece of content boring to read. But that’s simply not the case. If the content is boring, that’s the author’s fault; not Plain English.

How?

There’s some simple principles that you can follow which will help you write better, more effective content. There’s also tools that you can use to help!

1) Keep your sentences short.

You should aim to have an average sentence length of 15-20 words. This doesn’t mean that all your sentences should be the same length. Varying them helps give your writing flow, making it interesting.

Only write about one point per sentence. Avoid using lots of commas and connectives to join sentences together. Tools like HemingwayApp can help highlight longer sentences, which you can then consider cutting down.

2) Write in the active voice.

Primary and secondary school English lessons are a long time ago for most people, but active voice is something that you should revisit. Why? Writing in the active voice creates better content. Ashley Leone has written a great post on this here - I won’t rehash it all. Another great post is this one by the University of Wisconsin Writing Center.

3) Use you and we

Using “you” and “we” helps to connect your writing to your audience. It also makes the content conversational in tone - you wouldn’t refer to someone as “the user” if you were speaking to them in real life.

The use of you in marketing and sales content also helps the reader put themselves into the situation you’re describing. Winners all round!

4) Use language appropriate for who you’re writing for

If you’re writing for 11 year old children, don’t overcomplicate your vocabulary. If you’re writing for super technical scientists, you don’t need to use words to impress people.

Effective content communicates it’s message quickly and concisely. Why overcomplicate things?

The importance of using it in your everyday life

Why’s it important? I’d guess that the majority of communication that you do is written, either email, social media, or sending messages. Being effective in all these methods helps you, whether that’s at work and providing a status update for your boss, or telling your partner that they didn’t take the bins out, it’s important that we don’t leave the reader with the wrong impression.

Using tools like HemingwayApp and Grammarly can help with longer content, and as you become a better writer, it will translate to your shorter forms of content.