Skip to main content

Why we use plain English

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra content design

plain EnglishWe use plain English so you can understand anything we publish quickly and easily.

Still with me? Thought so.

I could’ve said: Simplifying language facilitates the comprehension process of our written guidance.

You’d just about get it, but you’d probably be losing the will to live. That’s why we use plain English.

Know who your users are
We write guidance for specific users in language they understand.

So, for example, when we write guidance for farmers we don’t want them to read through loads of legal jargon.

In Smarter Guidance, we use words people are familiar with.

We work with subject-matter experts to make sure that we translate complicated processes into factual guidance that users can understand. And we follow the Government Digital Service’s fourth design principle: simplify language without changing the law.

Keeping language simple

Writing in the way people speak helps users follow the content.

Academic researchers Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer explain the benefits of conversational style in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction:

“People work harder to understand material when they feel they are in a conversation with a partner rather than simply receiving information.”

And way back in 1893, English professor LA Sherman explained that ‘making the vague definite’ helps students of all abilities understand text more easily:

“The oral sentence is clearest because it is the product of millions of daily efforts to be clear and strong. It represents the work of the race for thousands of years in perfecting an effective instrument of communication.”

Get the right words for search engines

A subject-matter expert recently asked me about the wording in Smarter Guidance: “is ‘get’ really the most appropriate word to use?” Yes it is.

‘Get’ is the fifth most common English verb - everyone can understand it. 

Web analytics shows that farmers aren’t searching for what funding they’ll ‘receive’ or ‘obtain’ - they’re trying to find out what they’ll get.

Our content uses the same words as our users do in their search terms. People can find what they want to know in language they understand, and they can complete what they need to do quickly and easily.

That’s Smarter Guidance.

Sharing and comments

Share this page