[November 25, 2018] When writing for an audience with diverse backgrounds, it is important to write in plain English so that the training is not lost on learners with low levels of English, prior learning and/or formal education. Writing in plain English can be challenging especially for highly educated trainers. However, there are a few tips and techniques to write handouts that are highly readable.
Convey the Message Concisely
The first rule in writing in plain English is to write concisely and by using the minimum number of words to get the point across. An example of writing that is not concise would be:
To boil an egg, first fill the pot with water from the tap. It is important not to overfill the pot or it could boil over. In addition, a pot with a copper bottom would distribute the heat more evenly making the water come to a rolling boil more quickly.
An example of a more concise sentence would be: To boil an egg quickly, ¾ fill a copper bottom pot with water. The copper bottom distributes heat evenly.
Avoid Acronyms and Abbreviations
Using acronyms and abbreviations is a quick way to lose an audience. If you must use an acronym or do my science homework, spell it out when it is used first and also include it in a glossary for easy reference. Abbreviations are also not recommended. Instead, write out “haven’t” as “have not”.
Avoid Industry Jargon
Again, it is important to avoid industry jargon as learners who are new to the industry will feel overwhelmed by the unfamiliar words. If you must use a few words that are particular to the industry, define them in a glossary.
Delete Unnecessary Phrases, Adjectives and Adverbs
While it is tempting to add in adjectives and adverbs when describing a process or concept, it can prevent learning if the vocabulary is above a North American grade 10 level.
For example, a sentence with excessive adjectives and adverbs would be: When boiling a fresh brown egg from a free range, grain-fed egg chicken, carefully place the egg in a 1-liter copper bottom.
In plain language, the sentence would be: When boiling an egg, place the egg in a pot, fill with water and bring to a boil on high heat.
Use Headings and Subheadings to Organize the Information
To help a reader understand the main ideas quickly and simply, use headings and subheadings (as in this article) to convey the key messages and group the information. Sub-headings are helpful when there is a lot of complex information to convey and/or multiple phases or steps to a process.
Provide Self-Assessment Quizzes
To improve the chances of learning with an audience with low levels of English, self-assessment quizzes of multiple choice questions can help them review the materials. This is a great technique when training employees on a very complex process. Start off with the foundational knowledge and test learning before proceeding to more advanced concepts.
These techniques will engage learners with a lower level of English or limited prior knowledge or experience. Writing content in plain English, learners will not be fell overwhelmed by the unnecessary words, complicated messages and information that is poorly organized.