Doing plain language is a process

An empty page in a notebook with a pencil and sharpener. Doing plain language is a processAccessibility and universal design have arrived in written language. People who can read and write well, think that everyone else has that capability. But writing a document or webpage in plain language takes a lot of thought. Doing plain language is a process. This point is well made in a blog article.

Kelsie Acton writes about her plain language experiences in a blog post. As with any new idea, we grow with practice. That’s also one of the tenets of universal design: do the best you can with what you have at the time. Then do it better next time – it’s a process of continuous improvement. 

Acton’s article is a great example in itself. It isn’t plain language as such, but it is very easy to read. She explains how she thinks about plain language and the difficulties it poses sometimes. For example, words feel flat – it’s all about facts and less feeling. 

Having more than one version of a document is important. Writing in a way to make people think or to express values are difficult to do in plain language. Acton gives an example of this where she takes an emotive paragraph and turns it into plain language.

Acton says that plain language uses:

      • The most common vocabulary possible so that readers aren’t stopped by unfamiliar words
      • Active voice, so it is clear who is doing what
      • Short sentences
      • Headings, lists, bullet points, and white space to make information clearer
      • Definitions to introduce readers to complicated vocabulary

It makes you think

There is no doubt that writing complex ideas in a straightforward way takes time and effort. Acton says the process makes her think about her own understanding of a topic. Writing in an active voice makes her think about who is doing what. It also makes her think about her relationship to the topic.

So, doing plain language is more than a case of clever wordsmithing. It’s a learning process as well. Kelsie Action’s short article is on the Critical Design Lab website and worth a read. Note the design of the webpage for easy access and reading.