What is Plain Language?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 20, 2023, updated December 20, 2023
What is Plain Language?

Plain language is a crucial part of excellent business writing. Plain language eliminates confusion and focuses on making sure that you successfully communicate with your intended audience. As you break down complex ideas into simpler terms, your audience will process the information quickly and easily. Most importantly, plain language helps avoid misunderstandings that can lead to wrong decisions or improper actions from stakeholders. As an added benefit, plain writing facilitates faster comprehension, which reduces communication gaps and inaccuracies along the way.

Why is Plain Language Important?

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act into law. This requires greater transparency and accountability for all Federal Agencies when communicating with the public. The law requires that all government communication to the public must be written in a way that is easy to understand so that the public can more effectively utilize it. This includes clear sentence structure, active voice, direct language, and other stylistic considerations that will make documents easier to read and comprehend.

The Plain Writing Act also helps make sure important instructions or information are communicated accurately — errors can lead to reduced efficiency or safety issues in certain situations. The clarifications imposed by this law are beneficial to government departments and taxpayers, who no longer have to waste time trying to decipher overly complex governmental documents.


Learn how to write in plain language and get expert instructor feedback.

Our Effective Business Writing Techniques course is available for individuals and groups online, virtually, and onsite.

View Course & Outline

How to Write in Plain Language

1. Know your readers

Start by taking time to identify your target audience. Knowing who will receive the communication is paramount in determining how concisely all of the relevant information can be conveyed — taking into account things like age, profession, education, and existing skill set. Crafting a document within these parameters allows for greater efficacy when communicating, as there’s an understanding of what information needs to be included and what existing knowledge can already be assumed.

2. Know your outcome

Begin structuring your document by considering the intended outcome. What are the exact goals and objectives you want to achieve? Identifying these metrics ahead of time will help ensure that your content remains focused on a specific purpose.

3. Use proper content structure

Good organization and design are essential to successfully communicating information, ideas, and messages to readers. Appearance can be used as an aid to readers by improving comprehension and retention of content. In fact, some studies have found that content structure that includes white space improves reader comprehension and engagement by up to 20%. An attractive presentation with a clear structure will draw readers in and help them find the information they need more easily. This makes it easier for them to develop an understanding of the material you are presenting.

4. Display material correctly

Organizing documents effectively involves writing an introduction followed by shorter sentences and paragraphs for ease of comprehension. Ensure that your messages are ordered in response to your reader's interests and concerns — this could involve creating a table of contents that outlines exactly where sections of the document are located. Such an organization can save time while allowing you to focus on the important pieces of information first, thus providing a better experience for your target audience. Following these conventions will ensure that your material is displayed in a way that appeals to your readers both visually and intellectually, leading to increased engagement with your communications.

5. Review your document

Evaluating your document before its completion is an important step and should not be overlooked. There are several components to consider when evaluating a written document. First, check word choice, verb forms, and structure. Make sure the language flows naturally and conveys your message accurately and concisely. Additionally, verify that there are no errors in terms of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. These little details will go a long way in making your document look more professional and clearer to read.

Finally, make sure you use proper dating and page numbering. Consistency among parts of the document is also very important. Check for uniformity, such as font type and size, throughout the document to ensure visual cohesiveness throughout. Make sure any images used fit with your desired aesthetic and convey the right message with their placement so they don't disrupt the flow of reading instead of enhancing it.

Who Benefits From Plain Language?

Information presented in plain language benefits all readers regardless of their literacy levels or native language spoken. Language learners who are still developing their linguistic skills find plain language immensely helpful in deciphering meaning and understanding concepts without needing to strain themselves trying to interpret complex sentences or words they haven’t encountered yet.

Ultimately, everybody is sure to gain something by using plain language when writing content since it helps reduce misunderstandings and confusion due to its clear and concise structure. Plain language eliminates technical jargon and overly complicated words, which opens up the possibility for more accurate feedback and comprehension amongst readers who may not otherwise be able to access the same information if complex words were used instead. By presenting information simply, writers create an inclusive environment where anybody who reads the material will be able to comprehend it.

At Instructional Solutions, our business writing courses include teaching the skill of plain language writing. Learn more about our in-person and self-paced business writing courses.

FAQs About Plain Language

What is a plain language example?

Plain English is the art of speaking and writing clearly, without any unnecessary fluff or confusing jargon. It's all about getting straight to the point and avoiding any fancy mumbo jumbo that just confuses people. So, forget about all those fancy words and convoluted sentences — just say what you mean, and mean what you say!

What is the difference between plain language and plain English?

Plain English is an interchangeable term with plain language writing. However, there are some subtle differences. Plain English prioritizes simplicity, clarity, and conciseness while avoiding unnecessarily complex vocabulary. Plain language is a writing style that aims to maximize reader comprehension by being clear and straightforward. 

What does plain language do?

Using plain language is beneficial for both customer service and the general public. It allows readers to understand documents more easily, resulting in faster comprehension. Additionally, when documents are written in plain language, readers are less likely to need clarification, resulting in fewer inquiries.

Our business writing courses all teach the optimal six-step process, which includes how to write in plain language. Enroll in one of our courses and learn how to write in plain language today and you'll receive written feedback on your actual business documents.


Become a stronger business writer and receive instructor feedback on your actual writing within 48 hours.

Learn More
Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 20, 2023, updated December 20, 2023
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.