Cut the jargon: A plain language approach to web content

The web is our go-to source for information, but too often, that information is buried under jargon and complicated sentences. That’s where plain language comes in. It’s all about making online content clear and easy for everyone to understand, no matter who they are or where they’re from.

What is plain language?

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. International Plain Language Federation

Plain language makes things easier for everyone.

  1. It helps people understand quickly: Your message is clear, so readers get your point faster.
  2. It’s inclusive: It’s fair to all readers, even those who might find complex words difficult.
  3. It saves time: People don’t have to struggle to understand what you’re saying, which makes reading faster.
  4. It builds trust: People appreciate clear communication.
  5. It improves customer satisfaction: You spend less time explaining things; your customers are more likely to have a positive experience and feel satisfied with your service.

Using plain language is a win-win for both the writer and the reader.

Tips for writing in plain language

  1. Use simple words
    • Choose everyday words over complex ones.
      • Instead of “utilize”, use “use”.

  2. Write short sentences
    • Keep your sentences to 20 words or less.
      • Instead of “If you have any additional inquiries regarding our services, don’t hesitate to contact us”, use “If you have more questions, feel free to ask”.

  3. Use active voice
    • Make it clear who is doing what.
      • Instead of “The ball was thrown by John”, use “John threw the ball”.

  4. Avoid jargon
    • Don’t use technical terms that your reader might not understand.
      • Instead of “end-user”, use “customer”.

  5. Be specific
    • Don’t be vague, say exactly what you mean.
      • Instead of “We received a lot of feedback”, use “We received 50 responses”.

  6. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’
    • Speak directly to the reader to make your writing more personal.
      • Instead of “Customers must submit their forms”, use “You need to submit your form”.

  7. Use lists
    • Break up complex information into easy-to-read lists.
      • Instead of “You need to bring your ID, proof of address, and completed application form”, use

        “You need to bring:
        1) Your ID,
        2) Proof of address,
        3) Completed application form”.

  8. Keep paragraphs short
    • Stick to one idea per paragraph.
      • Instead of a long paragraph discussing multiple topics, break it up into smaller paragraphs each focusing on one idea.

  9. Use clear headings
    • Make it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for.
      • Instead of “Considerations”, use “Things to think about”.

  10. Avoid double negatives
    • They can make sentences harder to understand.
      • Instead of “Don’t forget to not leave the door unlocked”, use “Remember to lock the door”.

  11. Use examples
    • They can help explain difficult concepts.
      • Instead of just explaining a rule, provide an example of the rule in action.

  12. Be consistent
    • Use the same terms throughout your document.
      • If you use “car” in one section, don’t switch to “automobile” in another.

  13. Use visuals
    • They can help explain your point. 
      • Instead of describing a process in words, consider using a diagram.

  14. Test your document
    • Get feedback to make sure your document is clear.
      • Ask a friend or colleague to read your document and tell you if anything is unclear.

  15. Revise and edit
    • Always look for ways to make your writing clearer.
      • After writing your first draft, take a break and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Look for ways to make it simpler and clearer.

Useful resources and tools