Writing in plain language

It’s always a good idea to write course content in plain language. It helps more people understand the message easily and quickly.

Following are some tips for writing in plain language:

  • Use short sentences (e.g., an average of 15-20 words).
  • Use short paragraphs (three to five sentences) covering one idea only.
  • Vary your sentence length and structure.
  • Use personal pronouns such as “you”, “we”, and “us”.
  • Tailor words to your audience (make sure you know who your target audience is and then choose the simplest words to convey meaning to that audience).
  • Eliminate jargon (unless your target audience is certain to understand industry or product-specific terms).
  • Use an active voice (An active voice states who does what. Some clues to a passive phrase include a form of the verb “to be”, such as “are”, “was”, or “were” and a past participle, often ending with “ed”).
  • Give clear instructions in step-by-step order..
  • Use transition words to help orient the learner (this or that, first-second-third, however, to summarize, etc.).
  • Use positive language.
  • Use lists, tables, or illustrations where appropriate.

Here are some resources for more information: 
Plain Language.gov.
Improving Communication from the U.S. Federal Government to the Public

Plain Language Association International.
At the heart of clear writing across disciplines and around the world.

Language Portal of Canada: Tools for Writers.

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