Plain Language

Check that you're writing at a grade 6-9 reading level. Need to lower the reading level? Use these tips:

Write shorter sentences

Sentences that scan many lines are hard to read--especially on the go!

  • Want to use a semi-colon? Make it a period instead. 
  • Have a long list of examples? only use three.
  • Really need to list more items?  Try formatting it as a bulled list.

Use shorter words

Short words are easier to scan. They are also more easily understood— both by humans and machines (like online translators and search engines). For example:

  • "use" not "utilize"
  • "help" not "benefit"
  • "clear" not "apparent"

Write in the active voice

As our friends at plainlanguage.gov point out:

  • Active voice makes it clear who is supposed to do what. It removes all ambiguity about who is responsible.
    • Not “It must be done,” but “You must do it.”
  • Passive voice hides who is responsible for what.
    • It's one of the biggest problems with government writing.
  • Finally, don’t confuse "passive voice" with "past tense."

Tips for writing in the active voice

Remove as many uses of "to be" as you can:

  • "Subway rats adore pizza," not "Pizza is adored by subway rats"
  • "Teachers take attendance," not "Attendance is taken by teachers"

Sometimes you have to change the word order:

  • "DOE staff make accessible documents," not " Documents have been ensured to be accessible by DOE staff"

Add subheads

You can scan subheads to find the information you need--and skip over what you don't. Without them:

  • you work a lot harder to find what you need on the page
  • if you need a screen reader, you can't scan it at all. Instead, you have to read every word on the page.  

Use bullets 

Formatting

  • lists
  • examples
  • specific details

as bullet points make them easier to scan and read.  That's probably why it also lowers the reading level.

 

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