Why use plain English

Proofreading_and_editing_blog_98Many people argue that using plain language is dumbing down. It is true that dumbed down material uses plain language, but that is a different point.

Using plain language gets the message over quickly, and is therefore more efficient.

  • It saves time for the reader, because they can read & take in the information more quickly.
  • Because of that, it helps to build trust.
  • It helps to keep the attention of the reader. Long sentences may look impressive, but they are hard to digest and encourage people to skip a section or give up altogether.
  • People understand the content more easily, so there is less need to sort out problems afterwards. For example, they will not ask so many questions.

Just because your reader can understand something complicated doesn’t mean they want to. Most of us would rather move on to something else more quickly, or do something else at the same time, rather than concentrate on understanding a difficult passage.

Anyone who says that technical information has to be long winded should look at Warren Buffett’s letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. There you will see examples of a highly respected intelligent person communicating important financial information to a mixed group of people. If plain language works in that context, why should it not work in many more? Mr Buffett has said:

I’ve studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said.

That is another thing that loses trust – people know when you are writing to fill the space. If you have nothing to say, do you really know what you are talking about?

Problems can be avoided by:

  • Thinking out what you need to cover before you start writing.
  • Imagine your audience.
  • When you review your work, think what it would sound like to that audience. It often helps to read it out loud. Think about:
      • Have you said what the audience needs to know?
      • Can you read each sentence comfortably, in one breath, at the right speed to allow the audience to understand?

Visit my websites via the links at the top of this page.


About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader, working with a wide range of clients from large companies to individuals. I can help you to communicate clearly by carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas get your message over. I also have a sideline in textiles, as The Rainbow Angel.
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