Easy English, or Easy Read, are for people with the lowest levels of literacy. It’s mostly used for essential information such as health alerts and legal terms and conditions. Writing with minimal words is a skillset of its own. It’s not easy. But it does make you think about what you really need or want to say.
Easy English is not the same a plain English or plain language. Complex documents such as research reports are starting to include a plain language summary. However, these require an average level of literacy. They are usually presented as a paragraph or a list of sentences in dot points. Easy English drills down further to the key words and concepts. The techniques include:
- a lot of white space
- directly relevant illustrations (not photos) to convey the meaning of the text
- short words and sentences
- minimal punctuation
- positive phrasing
- bullets to separate items in a list.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading blog has a more detailed article. It summarises Cathy Basterfield’s presentation at their annual conference. She shows how editorial professionals can learn from Easy English.
Blog writer, Anna Baildon, said she learned a lot and had her assumptions challenged. She said she could see “the links to plain English but it goes further”. The headlines she remembers are:
- It’s hard to write in Easy English
- Access to written information should not be a reading test. It should be enabling
- Unpacking the language so the meaning becomes accessible.
- Access to information is a right. ‘Access’ means that a person reads, understands and knows what they can do.
Cathy Basterfield has pioneered much of the work on Easy English in Australia. Easy English is good for everyone. People with high level literacy skills can grasp the key points with little effort. And there are times when people with good literacy skills need help. For example, the stress of a court hearing can temporarily affect one’s reading skills and level of understanding.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has a guide to Editing in Plain English.