The principle of plain language is to communicate clearly and concisely so that as many people as possible will understand your message. The Canadian government has a requirement to use plain language on drug labels, and a recommendation for public communication (Canada Revenue Agency, are you listening?). The plain language movement is important because it saves time and improves accessibility and assimilation of information. Using plain language reduces the chances that your message will be misunderstood. Putting instructions into plain language improves compliance because it is easier to follow them correctly. When your message is easier to understand, you will reach more people, enhancing your service and their experience.
Are you using plain language in your work? Do you review promotional materials, reports, and even your e-mails for clarity? These extra steps are especially important for information meant for language learners or individuals with lower literacy skills. Try these tips to simplify text:
- Organize your message into main points and secondary points
- Use common words or phrases. Avoid metaphors, jargon, and clichés
- Review long sentences to make sure that your point is clear
- Design your document for ease of reading: use a straightforward font and enough open space to avoid crowding
- Avoid passive sentences. For example, replace “It is requested that participants bring I.D.” with “Please bring I.D.”
- Use graphics to illustrate a concept where appropriate
Plain language is no threat to colloquial terms, elaborate phrases, and colourful vocabulary. English is a vibrant, vital language that benefits from continuous evolution and additions. However, your business communications probably aren’t the place for language play! Plain language isn’t oversimplified or condescending. It is simply a reminder to consider what message you want to send, whom you are targeting, and how they will receive and perceive the information.
Community Literacy Coordinator
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy - Windermere Valley