In 2010, the American federal government enacted the Plain Language Act.
This legislation was created to “enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly.”
Which is great! It’s important for a government to be understood by its citizens.
Plain Language Act
But the act wasn’t created just to benefit readers. It helped the government too, lifting some of the burden off overworked employees of government departments who were answering the same questions over and over again by phone and via email, explaining what their documents actually mean.
Decoding information into plain language helps everyone involved and—most importantly, perhaps—saves money in the long run.
Business owners can learn from this.
Writers and marketers alike have been championing plain English for years because the benefits are so good for the bottom line. When you communicate in a language everyone can understand, you get more readers. When you get more readers, you can spread your message more widely. When that happens, you sell more.
What Is Plain English?
Plain English is a jargon-free language that can be easily understood by most people.
People read informational text differently from literary text. Even bookworms who read novels for enjoyment and pore over every sentence don’t carry those reading habits over to info they find on the web.
We scan pages. We read quickly. We want the information fast. If we don’t get it fast enough, we look elsewhere.
Plain English is ideally written at a ninth-grade reading level. It helps us read fast and understand more quickly.
This doesn’t mean that, if you have a complex product or service, you have to dumb it down for the lowest common denominator. It means that you should explain those complexities.
- Use short, easy-to-follow sentences.
- Use compound sentences sparingly.
- Avoid unnecessary jargon.
- Explain industry terms if you think your audience may be unfamiliar with them.
Engineers read dense papers from their field all the time. But they don’t want to read dense text online.
As a rule of thumb, the simpler a sentence can be, the better.
Where To Use Plain English
It’s a good idea to use plain English everywhere.
It all starts with your marketing materials. If your website is easy to parse and understand, you’ll get more engaged prospects and more interest in your business. Your sales materials, such as your quotes and your terms and conditions, should be clear and easy to understand, too. Even the documentation that goes after the sale—invoices and user guides, for example—benefit from simple language because each of these texts is a touchpoint with your brand.
Make every written interaction easy.
This all results in more calls to your sales department and fewer calls to your help desk.
Why Is Plain English So Effective?
When humans consume new ideas and concepts, they store the new information temporarily in their working memory. If their working memory is taxed by having to decode complex sentences, there’s less chance that the new information will “stick” and become a part of their long-term memory.
You want your message to come across as clearly as possible. This means removing as many obstacles to that message as possible.
The cumulative effect of plain English is that doing business with you will seem easy.
Quick Tips For Boosting Your Message With Plain English
Writing and editing your informational content with plain English in mind can be challenging, but every improvement you make is a step toward clarity. Remember to:
- Keep it short. Visitors to your site prefer easily digestible content.
- Keep it simple. Use language that everyone can understand.
- Leave out jargon. Define industry-specific phrases if you need to.
- Avoid compound sentences. Don’t make any concept more complex than it needs to be.
- Write for ninth-grade reading level. The more complicated an idea, the simpler the language needs to be to support it.
Your audience expects clear, concise writing. But even if you have a complex product or service, you don’t have to dumb it down. Employ the tenets of plain English and you’ll be one step closer to getting your message across and converting more visitors into customers.
At ADVAN, we’re experts in writing for your target market. Speak to us today and see how we can make plain English an integral part of a successful digital marketing plan.