Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Judge: "The charge here is the theft of frozen chickens. Are you the defendant?
Defendant: "No, sir, I am the guy who stole the chickens.”
This is a quote taken directly from actual court records. The accused did not understand the jargon, ‘defendant’, used by the judge. This is an example of taking your audience to confusion as a result of packing your speech/writing with jargon instead of using plain English.
Plain English is a style of writing that enables the reader to understand the message conveyed at the first reading. It uses everyday words and short, clear sentences without unnecessary jargon. It doesn’t mean that you have to simplify your work. It is not about compromising on creativity. Writing in plain English is about understanding who your readers are and what they want, and then writing in a way that speaks to them clearly and concisely.
Short sentences are faster to write and easier to read. Shorter is better, but your writing needs to have a flow. Don’t worry about writing a slightly longer sentence here and there, but that is fine if the paragraph reads better and the meaning is clear. Active voice makes your sentences direct, dynamic and easy to read. Passive verbs can make sentences confusing, ambiguous and, sometimes, rather boring. It adds two additional words for it to make sense. If you want to reduce your word count, hunt down your passive verbs and make them active. This doesn’t mean that we should always avoid passive voice. In some cases, you do not know who or what the subject of a sentence is and in such situations, a passive verb is more appropriate. Undoubtedly, active verbs make your writing clearer, conversational and more engaging.
Always keep the reader in your mind while you write and use words that make sense to your reader. If it is for a broad audience, it is a good idea to use everyday language and avoid jargon. But some jargon is fine if it fits the context and makes sense to the reader.
The simplest way to communicate with someone means planning ahead, knowing your audienceband making no assumptions.
Writing plain English is like forming a habit. If you can make it part of your daily writing process, these principles will come spontaneously to your writing. You will not worry or even think about making it plain or simple.