Friday, 11 November 2016

Plain English

A succinct and simple writing style can make communication much more effective. Here are some tips for writing in Plain English.



Read it aloud
Tip: read through what you have written, preferably aloud. If it is difficult to read aloud, it will be difficult for users to understand.

Jargon and acronyms
Try to expand acronyms and explain unfamiliar jargon the first time you use them.

Explaining procedures
If you are explaining a procedure, try to set it out in small steps in the same order as the person will need to carry out the procedure.

Plain English
Avoid passive voice, excessive formality and using unfamiliar terms without any explanation.
Passive voice example
Plain English
"Books may be borrowed from the library"
"You can borrow books from the library"
"It is recommended that..." 
"We recommend that..." 
it is preferred that a booked appointment is made 
we would prefer you to make an appointment 
Excessive formality
Plain English
subsequent approval of which will be a pre-requisite to the raising of any internal order mechanism 
You will need approval before we can raise an internal order 
Unfamiliar term
Plain English
irreversible encryption 
irreversible encryption (data that has been scrambled for security purposes and cannot be unscrambled) 

Common errors
Beware of common errors in English such as affect/effect (see also "Common Mistakes and Tricky Choices") - these errors will make it harder for users to understand what you are trying to say.
Avoid long sentences and run-on sentences. These are usually grammatically incorrect.

Incorrect
Correct
Better
Execmail will give you access immediately, the new shared mailbox folders will appear at the bottom of the 'tree' of your present list of folders. 
Execmail will give you access immediately; the new shared mailbox folders will appear at the bottom of the 'tree' of your present list of folders."
OR
Execmail will give you access immediately and the new shared mailbox folders will appear at the bottom of the 'tree' of your present list of folders.
Execmail will give you access immediately. The new shared mailbox folders will appear at the bottom of the "tree" of your present list of folders. 

Remember to separate dependent sub-clauses with a comma - e.g. "In order to have an email address, you must have a user name and account" or "You should, of course, be aware that..."

Nouns and verbs
Incorrect
Correct

Login to our system 

Setup your password 
Feedback your comments 

Log in to our system /  Obtain a login 

Set up your password  /  Go to setup page 
Feed back your comments  / Send feedback 

Numbers
  • For numbers 1 to 10, use words, not numerals. (See style guide, p. 21-22)
  • Use words for "first", "second" etc up to "tenth"; after that, use 11th, 21st, 100th
  • But, if numbers above and below appear close together, then standardise them. e.g. "A group of 10-12 students" OR "A group of ten to twelve students."
  • For numbers 11 onwards use numerals – 11-100.
  • For numbers over 1,000 include a comma – 5,000  not 5000.
  • Always start a sentence with words - "One thousand people" not "1,000 people…"
  • For numbers with a decimal point, use numerals, e.g. 9.25, 12.5%
Resources
Brookes resources