Simple and Easy Tips to Use Plain English in Your Everyday Communication
At one point, you may have experienced that some messages communicated to you in English are hard to understand. You may find yourself needing to ask again or re-read the text to get it right. This could be because the English that has been used to convey the message to you is too complicated. This is the exact reason why many have started to favor Plain Language, also known as Plain English. Since people naturally prefer to read and hear a message that is easy to understand, official communications of some businesses are now adopting it. Plain English makes your message easier to understand because it is communicated simply and clearly. It avoids complicated language, thus making it easy to remember.
There are several techniques that you can follow to start using it in your everyday communication. The most practical ones are listed below.
Be specific and get to the point
Plain English is all about making your message easy to pick up and comprehend, hence when you use Plain English, you avoid meandering sentences and roundabout statements. You get to the point by presenting your major points first, followed by the details. This will enable you to help your listener quickly get the gist of your message and its relevance to him. Using plain English also requires you to be specific to avoid making your listener keep guessing what you mean. Being specific about the details ensures clarity on comprehension.
Use the pronouns “I”, “we,” and “you”
There are several reasons why pronouns are used in Plain English. It avoids redundancy and helps to make your sentences shorter. It also has the ability to change the tone. The pronouns “I”, “we,” and “you” are the usual ones that you will need in Plain English. Use “I” when referring to yourself, “we” when speaking on behalf of your group or organization, and “you” when addressing your audience. These pronouns can make your message sound conversational and engaging because it allows your listener to feel that you are talking to them directly. They also sound more informal, warmer, and friendlier. This enables your listener to feel more at ease and invites them to connect and respond positively to your message.
Use familiar words
Plain English avoids using complicated words and pomposity. It uses well known simple words that we regularly use when we communicate with others. A good guide to identify whether to use a certain word or not is to assess if you will use that particular word in casual conversations. If not, then it’s better to drop it and look for a simpler alternative. Using commonly used words simplifies and shortens the message, thus making it easier to understand.
Choose shorter words over long words where possible
Refrain from using long words when a shorter word is possible. Although using long words is acceptable, finding simpler and shorter terms to get your points across is more suited in Plain English. Replace long words with short, common words that can express the same idea and meaning of what you want to say. For example, use “show” instead of demonstrate or illustrate and “help” instead of assistance. Using shorter words will make your message shorter, thus easy to say and easy to pick up.
Explain unavoidable jargon
Plain English is used to guide your audience to focus on the message instead of being overwhelmed by complicated language. Using jargon can hinder your audience from understanding your message easily. Since jargon is used to a specific profession or industry, it can only be well understood by a certain group of people. Those who don’t belong in the same field may not understand these terms. This is the reason why it is often avoided and suggested to use simpler terms instead. However, jargon and other complex words are not completely banned in Plain English. In Plain English, you carefully choose words that your audience will understand to make your message easy to understand. Therefore if you can’t get your message across as accurate as you mean without using jargon, you can use them. Briefly explain the jargon the first time you use it, but if you think your listener is already familiar with its meaning, then there is no need to do so. Also, remember to only use jargon on a limited amount.
State the meaning of the acronym
Using acronyms can be unavoidable during conversations, especially when you are referring to an organization, department, or company. If you think that the acronym may invite confusion, or your listener is unfamiliar with it, state the acronym’s meaning the first time you use it. This will enable your listener to know what you are referring to the next time you use it. If the acronym’s meaning is not clear to your listener, he may think that the acronym belongs to other organizations having the same acronym. It’s also possible that your listener will think of a different meaning to a particular letter in the acronym, so its best to be clear from the start.
Omit superfluous words
Substance and easy comprehension are the two main priorities of Plain English. Fancy language, pomp, and waffle are trimmed in Plain English to make your message clear and effective. Also, they are removed because it often results in having superfluous words.
Superfluous words are unnecessary words that can be omitted because they don’t add meaning to your message. They are not needed in your message as they only prolong your sentences. If you can deliver your message with fewer words and mean exactly what you want to say, then there’s no need to use extra words. Cut the waffle and only use as many words as your message really needs. Do this by removing filler words and avoiding a series of adjectives in your sentences.
To learn more on how to omit superfluous words and write concisely, read our articles 16 Effective Techniques To Write Concisely
Watch out for nominalizations
A nominalization is an abstract noun that is formed from a verb. It is often used to name a process, technique, feeling, and emotion. While using nominalizations in Plain English is acceptable, using it too much can make your message sound dull and heavy. A sentence with nominalization lacks action because the verb has been changed to name something. Whereas, if you use the verb form of the word, your sentence structure becomes simpler and easy to understand. It sounds more direct, action-driven, and has a lively tone. This makes your message more interesting and engaging.
Use positive phrasing
When using plain language, phrase statements positively. Writing your sentences in the positive makes your sentences shorter. Compared to a negative statement, positive statements are easy to understand. Negative statements can be misinterpreted because they can be unclear. Only use negative sentences when articulating a warning.
Keep your sentence structure parallel
While having casual conversations, you may occasionally notice that you express your message in an unparalleled sentence. To ensure better comprehension, it is best to check that your sentences are parallel, especially with nouns, verbs, and pronouns. A change in the structure may confuse your listener. This beats the ultimate objective of plain English, which is to make your message easy to understand.
Make the subject and verb close together
The usual word order in English is subject-verb-object. When this is used, sentences are clearer and easier to understand. However, in cases where this order is interrupted by modifiers, try to keep the subject and verb close together by omitting unnecessary modifiers. Complement this word order with familiar words and simple sentences, resulting in an easy to comprehend message.
Be direct when giving instructions
At times, we tend to be awkward when giving commands to others; hence we tend to include extra words to express politeness. Other times, we rephrase our message to make it sound nicer; however, this can confuse a confusing message. When giving instructions using plain English, express your message by being direct. Since you want to get something done and make your listener take action, you need to make your listener clearly understand what you really wanted to be done. Avoid euphemism or dysphemism and just be direct with a nicer tone.
Relax the guidelines of grammar
While we know that grammar is important in English, we also have to know which rules are really rules and must be strictly followed and which are only guidelines. Some of the guidelines help make our speaking and writing more formal and standard, yet not following them doesn’t make our writing incorrect but just informal. However, it is important to note that some messages are better expressed in an informal way to make them easier to understand. So, not strictly following guidelines is allowable. Some of the acceptable guidelines even not strictly followed include: you can’t begin a sentence with a conjunction; you can’t split infinitive; you can’t end a sentence with a preposition; you can’t repeat the same word twice in a sentence. These guidelines can be relaxed as long as your reason is to make your sentence flow better and easy to understand.
Keep your sentences short
Keep your sentences as brief as you can because short sentences are simpler and easier to understand. Your listeners would remember and retain more information if you express your complete thought with short sentences. If your message is long, break it into short sentences. Also, as suggested on the above-mentioned tip, cut out unnecessary words. Keep your sentences around 15-20 words in length. To keep your sentence short and intact, always stick to one main idea per sentence. Overly detailed sentences are harder to understand and confusing. To avoid monotony and have appropriate rhythm and flow, vary the length of your sentences with longer ones and shorter ones.
Better communication results in better relationships and progress. When communicating, always aim to be understood clearly. While we are used to following the standard form of English, it is also important to start embracing plain English as we communicate in this modern world. The way we communicate now has changed, and some new words have even occurred. Clarity and comprehension go a long way; hence, when communicating, always aim to make your audience have this, regardless of the message you share with them. The tips above are guidelines that will help you to improve your communication with others. Consistently following the techniques will enable you to use Plain English naturally. All it takes is practice and patience.
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