plain language

Saying No: A beginner’s guide

No, non, nada, nyet—how we say no in different languages. Nein is the German word for no. Nein sounds the same as the English word nine, which means one less than 10. According to researchers, nine is also the number of times kids expect to ask their parents for something before getting it. Nine. Can…

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Subject Lines: Explicit is good when you’re writing email

Clear, precise language in email subject lines increase the chance that people will read and respond to your message. Specific subject lines help readers understand: What you want If they can help you—was this sent to the right person; do they have an answer? What priority to give your message—how important and time-sensitive is this? How…

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How to Add Emphasis: 4 tips for powerful speaking & writing

Precise language is a powerful instrument for leaders, teachers, and other effective communicators. When language is precise, it’s efficient and effective. Here are 4 ways to add strength and precision to your words: 1. Really Truly Limit your use of words like very and really. If you use strong, clear words the emphasis will be obvious to…

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Teaching & Training Skills: How to present information

I once had a prof who was a total geek; she loved her subject so much that she overwhelmed us with information. While her enthusiasm added interest, it was exhausting. Worse, it was incoherent. Even those of us who took copious notes were unsure of the key points. The instructor failed in 3 ways: She didn’t…

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How to Write Clear Instructions: 6 easy steps

Use lists where possible. Use a separate point or sentence for each action. Make the text large enough for visually impaired readers. How do you know it’s big enough? Test it. Know your audience—who will be reading these instructions and in what situations? Write inclusive instructions; make them simple and clear enough for lower literacy…

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Clear Writing for Schools: Communicating with your Student Body

I’ve attended several post-secondary institutions. All were wonderful places, run by motivated, caring administrators, but most failed at providing information. To clarify, they failed at providing student-centric information. Many schools suffer the same problem. The Problem Before a term starts, students receive numerous emails and letters containing time-sensitive information about registration, payment, accommodations and course materials. They also receive…

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Secrets to Successful Communication

The art of communication is the language of leadership. James Humes Leaders need to speak and write well. No matter how brilliant you are, if we can’t understand you, your leadership fails. Plain Language can help you communicate skillfully and successfully. What is Plain Language? Plain Language is an approach to speaking and writing that…

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Is Your Document Clear? A Checklist

This is a brief checklist to help you make sure that your document is easy, enjoyable, and rewarding to use. Layout—does this look readable and informative? __ Easy to see where to start. __ Paragraphs are short. __ Blocks of text are broken up by white space. __ Bullet points are used where appropriate. __ Type…

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Plain Language: Can You Draw A Picture Of Your Sentence?

In the quest for clarity, I’ve devised a simple test: Can you draw a picture of it? If you can easily turn your words into images, it’s a safe bet that those words are clear, simple and efficient. Imagine drawing this sentence: I walked to the store with my big ugly dog and bought oranges. Easy, right? The…

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Apostrophes, Contractions And Plurals (Oh My)

Apostrophes are running wild. They’re often used incorrectly or absent when needed. Some writers seem to insert them randomly, as if hopeful that a few might land in the right place; a prophylactic peppering of punctuation. For the sake of clarity and your readers’ sanity, here’s a cheatsheet on when, why and how to use…

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Activate Your Verbs!

Active verbs make speaking and writing clear, efficient, and more interesting. Active verbs are usually easier to understand, which is important for international audiences. Wordy and inactive: Better: They made a commitment. They committed. (or They committed to…) They reached a decision. They decided. The program has ceased to operate. The program ended. Her cake was…

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Business Writing Success: A quick & easy method

Is writing at work a challenge? You want to seem professional and competent but with so many other tasks competing for your attention, it’s hard to find the time to write well. And when you do get started, distractions and delays make it hard to finish. These 3 simple C’s will help you start quickly,…

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