The importance of writing in plain English

Writing in plain English is important when communicating with others in a business setting. Everybody knows this (or should), but why should plain English be used? The most obvious reason why is to ensure your message is being understood exactly as you meant it. By stating your message plainly and simply the first time, you will not have to waste valuable time and energy clarifying your intent in subsequent emails or contacting people again through other means such as a phone call. Another reason to simplify your business writing is money.

Consider this*:

  • UK businesses lose £6 billion a year because of badly written letters.
  • General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English.
  • The US Navy estimated plain English could save it between $250–$300 million every year.

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Time is money

Time wasted equates to money lost. Think about what plain English could mean for your business. In a typical office, the average employee receives about 100 messages a day. How much time is spent writing the original document? How many people end up reading the document? How much time is spent reading, processing and clarifying it?

Many people need to be re-trained to write in a simpler way. This is because they are not used to writing in a business environment or for non-native speakers. People also want to show off their large vocabulary or knowledge of grammar.

8 tips for writing in plain English

  1. Remember your audience. They may also be non-native English speakers with a lower level than yours.
  2. Organize your message.  Make sure your message follows a logical path.
  3. Write as if you were talking to the reader. An easy, conversational style will keep you from overcomplicating your sentences.
  4. Keep sentences short. Longer sentences are taxing on the reader. You’re not writing a novel, so don’t write like Jack Kerouac!
  5. Be specific rather than general. The reader doesn’t want to play the guessing game!
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. There is no reason to say the same thing three different ways.
  7. Use simpler words. There is no reason to show off your large vocabulary. This goes back to point 1.
  8. Don’t use jargon. This also goes back to point 1. Not everybody uses the same jargon, even within the same company.

If you have experience with having to write plain English, then you might have your own tips to share. I’d love to hear them and pass them on to my participants. For more tips on writing plain English, here are two interesting links I found.

*Source: Joe Kimble Writing for Dollars

2 replies
  1. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    Hi George,
    I don’t agree with point 7:
    “There is no reason to say the same thing three different ways”.
    Even in your native language it’s helpfull to talk about SOME content a second time, Not every message can be understood correctly so it helps to explain it again in different words.

  2. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    George, this topic is excellent and one that is often not considered for various reasons such as the ones you mention above. I also really like your checklist for helping people to take a closer look at their messages. Let’s hope that your suggestions lead to clearer emails in the future!

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