Writing in Plain Language Which Speaks to Your Readers

Here’s a news flash that most writers will surely find distressing—web readers usually actually read less than a third of the content of any given page. Whether this is because the reader actually found what he was looking for by the time he had read that amount or because he realized this was not the information he was after is unclear. Or, a third choice could be that the information the reader is looking for was hidden behind loads of extraneous text which the reader had neither the time nor the inclination to sift through. People come to a website with a specific goal in mind and if they are unable to find the answer to their question they will hit the back button in the mere flash of a second.

Meeting Your Readers’ Needs

If you want to meet your reader’s needs, then no matter what subject you are writing about must be presented in the most efficient manner possible, and the old adage about less being more is true nowhere as much as on the web. Text that is rich with flowery or complicated words not only breaks your reader’s concentration—as they try to figure out what each words means—it also takes the attention away from the subject and puts it onto the words. Plain language encompasses and entire style of writing which allows the target audience to understand quickly and easily the first time they read a passage.

Organization is Key

Plain language is always well-organized as well as sharp and succinct.  Think about having a conversation with a friend then eliminate anything which wouldn’t be part of that conversation. Writers who have spent many years writing prose may have the most difficult time with this advice, but remember—you are not banned from using any but the simplest words, so long as you ensure they are also familiar words to your readers. This means that you must know who your audience is. If you are writing for yourself in the form of a blog or on your own website, it is likely that you do know who your audience is. If you are writing for others, determining your target audience takes a bit more work. You may need to thoroughly dissect the site you are writing for in order to determine what the basic education level, work environment and level of technical expertise is regarding your subject.

How Important Is Plain Writing?

Plain writing is so important to reader comprehension that federal agencies are actually required—under the Plain Writing Act of 2010—to write their white papers, documents and websites in plain language that most all readers will comprehend. This particular law also requires that employees who will be engaged in writing will receive training on writing plainly. Suppose you have written your content using the plainest language possible. What else can you do to ensure your content is read?

Begin with the shortest, most concise statement you can possibly make about your subject. Make this statement both informative and immediately intriguing or engaging. Seconds are crucial here, so ensure this first statement is pure magic. Assuming you achieved that first goal, next make your page highly scannable with headlines for each paragraph chunk which makes a promise—and a paragraph that delivers. Provide clear links, use bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate and stay with short sentences. Finally, even if you are fairly certain you have a good handle on who your readers are, don’t ever assume they have specific knowledge of a subject or have read related pages. Write in such a way that each page will stand on its own, and write in plain, simple language.


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