Writing in plain language

Keeping your textual communication comprehensible

We write to communicate. So why is some writing just so hard to understand? Writing simply and clearly is an art as well as a science. It’s not “dumbing down” text: it’s understanding who your reader is, and writing in words they understand, in a way they can relate to.

Plain language enhances meaning, encourages reading, and results in better communication.

What you’ll learn

In this course, you will learn and practice the skills and science of writing in plain language. You’ll learn how to determine what type of language is plain for your audience, and how to use essential elements of grammar to keep your sentences crisp and clear. You’ll learn how to calculate the “readability” of your work, as well as tools and techniques to make your work more readable.

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Understand what plain language writing is for each audience you write for
  • Be able to plan and structure your writing, using outlines, to improve logic,flow, and understanding
  • Know how to choose words, structure sentences, and craft paragraphs to keep your writing active, clean and crisp
  • Know how to use tools such as metaphors, stories and examples to create and improve understanding
  • Be able to calculate the difficulty of a piece of writing, and edit it into plain language

Who should take this course?

This course is especially designed for people who have to write articles, documents or reports as part of their job, but who are not professional writers. This course is for you if you contribute to your organization’s newsletter; provide written directions for your co-workers or staff; need to communicate in writing with external audiences; need to share highly specialized or technical information; or simply need to be confident that what you write is understood by those who read it.

Course outline

  • Principles of competent writing
    - Know and apply the rules
    - Know your audience
    - Know your content
    - Know your purpose
  • What makes something hard to read?
  • “Tell it to me like I’m six years old”: to write plainly you have to understand your topic
  • Set yourself up for success: Organize your thoughts to improve understanding
  • Writing “rules of the road”: Use grammar to create clarity
  • “Show me, don’t tell me”: Using images, metaphors, stories and examples
  • Measuring readability: Gunning Fog Readability Index
  • Practice: Turning written passages into plain language