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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles

9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material

Write Better Plain English MaterialTIP #1: Readers skim text and judge quickly about what's worth reading. For this reason, make your document's purpose and usefulness immediately obvious. Use the title and other upfront text to clearly identify to readers what the material is about, whom it is for, and how to use it.

TIP #2: Include content based on your readers' interests, knowledge, and needs (which may differ from your own). Focus on what matters most to your readers. Address their issues and concerns. Clear up any text that may cause possible misunderstanding.

TIP #3: More than likely, your material will target a diverse audience. Show awareness of and respect for diversity among your readers. Write content that is culturally appropriate for your readers. Your writing should reflect and respond to differences in their experiences and situations. To make it easy for readers to relate to what you say, choose content that fits with their logic, language, and experience.

TIP #4: Repeat new concepts and summarize the most important points. This helps your readers absorb and re-absorb new information. Repetition helps them remember key points. Explain important new terms and concepts in more than one way, using different words and phrases. Don't be stingy with explanations and examples. If you don't give readers enough help to understand the new concepts, they will have trouble following what you are trying to say.

TIP #5: Make sure you provide accurate and current information. Check your facts. If you are writing technical or health-related material, you may need subject matter experts to assist you, and have trained reviewers and proofreaders check on accuracy. Manually proofread your document; do not rely solely on a spell-check program. Spell checkers will catch many misspelled words but they do not catch misused words. For example, a spell-checker will not flag a misuse of the word its when you mean it's because its and it's are both correct words.

TIP #6: Restrict information to a palpable amount that is reasonable for the intended readers. Too much text can overwhelm your reader, especially to less-skilled readers. If your material is too long, then consider ways to package it. If you condense your information, do not oversimplify your main concepts or drop important examples and explanations that readers need.

If you fail to convey your document's purpose with a specific title and prominent text, your readers may not glance at your document a second time. Do not write an ambiguous or misleading title otherwise you will attract the wrong audience. The title, subtitle, and other upfront text are your first and best chance to attract the reader's attention, so make these text elements informative and appealing.

When you start to write your material, give it a working title to help you focus on and remind you of the purpose of your work. Later, when you finish the first draft, take a critical look at your working title. If you glanced at your title, would you have a good sense of what your material is about? Does it give enough clues about the subject matter and the intended audience?

Suggestions for creating an effective title and upfront text

TIP #7: Make it specific and informative. If the title is vague or misleading, you may completely alienate your readers before they read the first paragraph. Try to craft a clear and compelling message about what your material is about. Your readers want to know immediately what they will gain from reading your document. It helps to be specific. The upfront text, the title and subtitle should answer the reader's questions: What's this about? How can I use it? How will it help me?

TIP #8: Choose your words and phrases carefully to capture your readers' interest. You want to warmly invite readers in, not push them away. A poster created by a Medicaid program to publicize its resources for pregnant teenagers provides a good example. The title draws attention: “Pregnant? Now what?” Then the subtitle gives a pregnant teen reason to keep reading: “Give your baby a healthy start. One call gets you connected to care.”

TIP #9: Carefully select words to create meaning for your message. If you write a very short title, it will be difficult to know the purpose of your document. For example, if you titled your document, "What Every Senior Should Know," would you know what the material was about? Long titles are a problem too because readers need extra time to read words. A long title may also discourage readers by suggesting that the material itself is long and complicated. Keep the title fairly short and succinct, and then use a subtitle and other upfront text to expand on its meaning.

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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles