University of Wisconsin–Madison

Happy International Plain Language Day!

Your communication is in plain language “if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.” (The International Plain Language Federation)

In celebration of International Plain Language Day on October 13, we encourage you to:

When you write or speak in plain language, you deliver your message more quickly. More people understand and remember it. You spend less time explaining and fixing mistakes. People are motivated to read or listen—and they follow through faster. Plain Language saves you time, money, work, and frustration.

Members of the UW–Madison Plain Language Community of Practice recently discussed important reasons why Plain Language is important in the workplace. Here’s their list:

  • Time and money savings
  • Clearer policies and procedures
  • Identification of “What’s in it for my reader?”—which means more people pay attention to our message, even when they’re swamped by email and other campus communication
  • Clearer communication with faculty whose first language isn’t English
  • Clearer communication between people across disciplines who use different definitions for the same words
  • Less confusion—which leads to better design and quicker implementation of workflows
  • Attention to equity:
    • If not everyone understands, not everyone can participate fully
    • To engage people, we have to make sure they’re able to access and understand our messages

The movement toward clear language in professional communication isn’t limited to the United States, or even to English. The Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) has members working in plain language around the world. They represent Dutch, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Italian, Malay, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish speakers. Each language may feature unique plain language strategies, but the common goal is to use clear, inclusive communication to engage more people around the world.

Tips for Plain Language Communication

1. Identify Your Audience

  • Who are my readers or listeners?
  • What do they need to know, think, or do after getting my message?

2. Choose Your Words Carefully

  • Start with the most important information.
  • Put the request for action first.
  • Identify due dates with “before” instead of “by.”

3. Simplify

  • Choose common everyday words (Checkmark Circle use vs. Close utilize).
  • Use fewer words and shorter sentences.
  • Speak to individuals by using personal pronouns (you, we), even when addressing large audiences.
  • Use active instead of passive verbs.
    • Checkmark Circle Supervisors evaluate your performance every year.
    • Close An evaluation of employee performance will be conducted by supervisors annually.
  • Only include acronyms and jargon familiar to everyone in your audience.

4. Design for Readability

  • Leave 40-50% of the page as whitespace.
  • Use headings and bulleted lists to organize information in small chunks.

Did you find what you need?