Clarity through Plain English

★ Enabling readers to see the forest and the trees.★

Plain English — Essential to Great Business Writing

Written business communication occurs in many forms and mediums today, making clarity and ease of understanding more important than ever before. Probizwriters advocates and uses plain English to streamline and improve business communication.

You may have heard of a growing movement advocating the use of plain English (often also called "plain language") in contemporary communication, especially pertaining to legal documents, government communication, and legislation. But what does this really mean? And why is it important to your business?

Legalese and Bureaucratese had become so burdensome and pervasive that they nearly ground the wheels of commerce and the utility of government to a halt—which spawned a movement to shift the trajectory of written English back to simplicity and clarity in government, law and business. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and many in government, the professions, and business struggle to shake off the legacy of bad writing habits and accepted standards.

What is Plain English?

Plain English is communication the audience understands the first time they read it. It enables readers to:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find to meet their needs

The definition accepted by the International Plain Language Working Group (as found in Cheek, A. "Defining plain language." Clarity 64 (2010): 5-25) is:

"A communication is in plain English if it meets the needs of its audience—by using language, structure, and design so clearly and effectively that the audience has the best possible chance of readily finding what they need, understanding it, and using it."

Many writing techniques help achieve this goal, including:

  • Logical organization with the reader in mind
  • Use of "You" and other pronouns
  • Active voice
  • Short sentences
  • Common, everyday words
  • Easy-to-read design features

Plain language is not comprised of any particular technique, but is instead defined by what it does: it's easy to read, understand, and use.

The object of written business communication is enabling the audience to quickly understand what is said, what is meant, and what is expected or requested, and to respond or take appropriate action effectively. This doesn't work too well if the reader is confused or finds the material difficult to grasp, or has to read it two or three times to figure out what it means. So, freeing prose of unneeded words is the essential starting point for "plain English" writing.

Plain English is about writing for your readers; making the reading process enjoyable, not a struggle. It's about avoiding jargon, and communicating directly, without pretense. It's about eliminating confusion. Simplicity improves communication within an organization, and between a business and its public and market. Clearly written documents improve compliance and decrease litigation.

The fact is that mind-numbing, complex, inefficient writing has real, immeasurable costs. It wastes time, fosters mistakes and confusion, and scuttles communication. It's a bottleneck to efficient business activity and economic transactions.

This page is a great compilation on Plain English writing concepts and ideas that well illustrates the importance of plain English as writing discipline.

The Plain English Approach to Business Writing

Legal Writing in Plain English, Second Edition: A Text with Exercises (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

Our role: we help businesses and individuals establish and build credibility through clear, concise, easily understood written presentations. Plain English is a big part of how we improve results and solve problems.

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