What is Plain English

Plain English is writing that is clear, concise, and readily understood by the target audience.  The use of plain English in business, education, government, law, medicine, research, and science lowers costs, improves productivity, increases credibility, and reduces misunderstandings.

The fundamental purpose of any document is to convey information. Common sense suggests writing that is clear, concise, and readily understood by its target audience is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, many who draft documents don’t write well. They fill their documents with ambiguities, double negatives, jargon, lengthy sentences, massive paragraphs, needless words, passive voice, poor sentence structure, redundancies, sexist language, undefined terms, and worthless boilerplate.

Compounding the problem, many whose duties include writing fail to think about what they want to say and how to say it. Often, one sentence or paragraph does not logically flow from the previous one. This causes confusion and reduces trust. Equally important, by failing to really think about what they want to say, those drafting documents may base conclusions on hidden assumptions or faulty logic.

Poor writing has many causes. Some adopt a formal tone to sound authoritative. Others use bloated language to delay a meaningful response or action. A few intentionally write to confuse or mislead. The most significant cause of poor writing, though, is poor training. Many who draft documents for a living still have bad memories of high school courses that focused on grammar and punctuation. They may have never paused to consider what good writing is, instead copying the style of others in their organization or profession. In this way, poor writing habits pass from one generation to the next.

PEI believes people can improve their writing by learning the principles of plain English. PEI is developing courses to teach these principles. PEI has also developed standards to certify documents that meet PEI’s requirements for PEI’s “Plain English Certified” designation.