Plain language: Could it increase your ROI?

May 9, 2017
emily amos

42% of Canadian adults between the ages of 16 and 65 have low literacy skills, according to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS). It is also estimated that investments in literacy programming and plain language have a 241% ROI.

I may be stating the obvious, but if more people can read and understand your web content, you will get more clicks, sign ups, purchases, and downloads and this will therefore increase your ROI.

Have I got your attention? Plain language is crucial in helping readers successfully understand your organization and complete key tasks. Today, we’ll discover what plain language is, why it’s important, and how to do it. Let’s get right to it:

What is plain language?

Plain language means that your audience can easily understand what they’re reading. It isn’t dumbing down or oversimplifying content. If anything, writing plainly is smart, and it takes both practice and skill to do it right.

Why use plain language?

  1. Increase inclusivity and accessibility: You’re giving your readers a real chance to truly engage with your content. This extends to those who are reading your content with English as a second language, or those with a disability like dyslexia.
  1. Write for your audience: Plain language helps readers accomplish key tasks, and is better understood than typical business, technical or academic writing. For documents, forms or instructions, your messages will be clearer and more easily understood if they’re written in more practical terms.
  1. Save your reader’s time: Studies show that plain language is also faster to read. With short attention spans online, you’re not only doing readers a favour, but you’re also increasing the chance that they’ll complete the task they came to your site to complete.
  1. Eliminate the possibility of miscommunication: By writing your message clearly, you’re taking away any ambiguity that could lead to confusion. If users don’t understand you because your writing is complex, you’re making the task they’re attempting to achieve far more difficult than it needs to be.

How to write plainly

  1. State your main idea first: I like to call this the “meat” of your content. Give readers what they came to your page to find right away. Don’t bury it at the bottom.
  1. Write in an active voice: Use an active voice rather than a passive one. It’s more direct and to-the-point. For example, which of these two lines is more clear? (Hint: it’s number 1.)
    • I wrote this blog post.
    • This blog post was written by me.
  1. Remove filler words: Anything from redundancies to complex vocabu lary has to go. You’ll lose your audience’s attention quickly if you’re making them over-read for no good reason.
  1. Choose simple words: Why use the word “utilize” when “use” means the exact same thing?
  1. Say goodbye to complex sentences: If your own sentence makes you winded when you read it aloud, or you have two important ideas in one overloaded sentence, break them into 2 shorter sentences.
  1. Avoid using jargon: Whether it’s vocabulary that’s specific to your industry, or words that your everyday reader wouldn’t understand, either remove them or clearly explain them.
  1. Write like you speak: Write content that makes the reader feel like they’re having a conversation with you. If you want to be understood, put the thesaurus aside and write as if you were talking to them.
  1. Read it out loud: Talking it out makes it easier to set a consistent tone and smooth out the kinks readers might trip up on. If you’re stumbling, your readers definitely will too.

You should always write in a way that will benefit your reader rather than yourself. Resist the urge to use vocabulary or grammar that could be confusing. This will make reading your content unnecessarily difficult.

What are your tricks for writing in plain language?


Download our FREE checklist: Web Content Evaluation ChecklistThis checklist will help you determine whether your content is clear, compelling and concise.

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