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: 
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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