Oh, the power of easy-to-understand copy.
Reading an important document should not feel like navigating the DMV: frustrating and confusing. Whether it’s instructional text, a technical document, or medical information, clear and simple wins. Any industry—business, legal, healthcare, education—should consider plain writing guidelines for all of their documents and marketing.
Plain writing just means straightforward, audience-specific communication.
Plain writing has existed as an initiative for government agencies since the 1940’s. Hoping to filter legal and political jargon and produce straightforward, succinct papers, the movement gained further acknowledgement after the formation of the Plain Language Action Network (PLAN) in 1998, directed by then-Vice President Al Gore.
In October, President Obama declared plain writing as law, signing The Plain Writing Act of 2010 into effect. The Act defines plain writing as “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.”
Hurray! Plain writing! Let’s take a look at some best practices for writing plainly:
1. Identify your audience.
- Who are you writing for?
- What do they know?
- What do they need to know?
2. Organize the content.
- State the purpose of the document. (“This document provides care guidelines for wombats.”)
- Use descriptive headings (“How to wash a wombat,” “Feeding wombats”) and short sections for your content.
- Charts, lists, and tables visually break up the document, making it easy to read.
3. Write actively.
- The document should drive action and highlight benefits. (“Feed your wombat tomato soup to ensure that he will sleep well at night.”)
- Use active voice.