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Queen’s Professional Studies has been moving toward writing online courses in plain language. What is plain language and why have we embraced it?

 

What is plain language?

Plainlanguage.gov defines plain language as “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.” There are many definitions of plain language, but we like this one because it respects the reader’s time and considers how good writing should sound when read aloud.

Plain language is “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”


—plainlanguage.gov

Plain language involves

  • organizing writing so that it’s easy to follow
  • using active verbs and simple tenses
  • writing shorter sentences
  • writing shorter paragraphs
  • using words that are likely to be in many people’s vocabularies
  • using fewer words
  • making writing readable and hearable
 

Why plain language?

There are many reasons to write in plain language. Doing so can

  • improve comprehension and retention
  • expand your audience, so more people can access your content
  • help readers whose first language is not English
  • improve accessibility—particularly for those using assistive technologies to listen to written content
  • ease the reading load for time-pressed readers
 

Plain language tips

Writing in plain language takes practice. To train yourself to write simply, try the following strategies:

  • Copy your writing into the Hemingway Editor. It’ll show you where your sentences are too long, and where you can use words that are easier to understand. It’ll also help you to adjust your reading level. (This post is written at a Grade 7 reading level.)
  • Explore the checklists and handouts, such as the Use Simple Words And Phrases List at the plainlanguage.gov site for tips on writing plainly.
  • Add a plain language macro to Microsoft Word. The Plain Language Macro at Tech Tools for Writers will highlight difficult words in your writing. You can then replace them with easy-to-understand words.
  • Listen to your writing using the Read Aloud feature in Word. Doing so can alert you to difficult spots in your writing.

The goal of plain language is to remove barriers that make writing difficult to understand. At Queen’s Professional Studies, plain language is one tool that we’re using to make learning accessible to everyone.