Plain language

Plain language

“Plain language” refers to a type of English that is regulated by a special set of guidelines. This way of using English is designed to be very easy to understand. The guidelines are defined by the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) in the US and the Plain English Campaign in the UK. In addition to general grammar rules, these guidelines also include spelling rules and recommendations on typography.

The purpose of plain language is to make texts easier to understand for people who might, for a variety of reasons, have only a limited grasp of English. It removes linguistic barriers in communication and comprehension and facilitates human interaction.

The primary target groups of plain language are people with cognitive disabilities and people whose first language is not English.

Plain language helps adults who, for any reason, have difficulty with complex sentence structures and loanwords to search for information on their own and to be more independent.

The Plain English Campaign in the UK has defined the following basic guidelines:

  • Using short sentences
  • Expressing only one main idea in a sentence
  • Preferably using active verbs
  • Do not use abstract terms if not strictly necessary. Explain using examples or comparisons.
  • Do not use figurative language such as “glass house” or “needle in a haystack”.
  • Avoid borrowed words and technical terms if possible; otherwise, explain them simply
  • The first time an acronym is used, it should be explained briefly and simply

More suggestions and recommendations on typography and the use of media

  • Arrange texts clearly, e.g. a line for each sentence
  • Do not write words in all caps or use italics
  • The text should be left-aligned
  • Use bullet pointse
  • Do not let images and text run into each other

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