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The Beauty of Plain English

Most LLN teachers will be well aware of the importance of Plain English. Leonie’s article can be a useful reminder for us – and our colleagues – of its value in VET learning and assessment resources.

If you train, keep it PLAIN: Why plain English is your best friend.

Let’s face it― the ability to communicate clearly and simply is an essential skill for any teacher or trainer. After all, as we all know, our whole purpose is to help people understand our message.

I was recently surprised to discover that many VET trainers seem unfamiliar with the concept of plain English and how it can help them. I have even heard some describe it as a novel concept. To be honest, this is a concern.

What exactly is plain English?

Plain English is clear, concise writing, which is easy to understand―the first time you read it.

Plain English removes unnecessary complexity and makes your message as clear as possible.  The first rule of plain English is to know your reader and keep their needs uppermost in your mind. For VET trainers, that means knowing your learners. Other principles include:

  • using simple, everyday language
  • making sure you have a logical flow of ideas
  • using good layout and design.

The best way to understand the beauty of plain English is to see it in action. Which version do you prefer in the examples below?

    A. If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

    B. If you have any questions, please phone.

How can plain English help trainers?

  • It keeps your writing at the right level: The language you use to train and assess shouldn’t be harder than the language your learners need to do the task at work.
  • It keeps your resources accessible and equitable. Up to 46% of adult Australians struggle with everyday literacy, and many people even need help filling out forms (think enrolment). Legislation requires all VET trainers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the LLN needs of their learners.
  • It helps you write better assessments: Imagine how much time you would save if no-one had to ask for clarification! Assessments are already stressful ― let’s not make them any worse. Remember, if your learners can’t understand the question, it is not a valid assessment according to the Principles of Assessment.
  • It keeps everyone safer. Complicated workplace procedures lead to serious incidents. Make your procedures crystal clear, and everyone will stay safe.
  • It saves time and money. The Royal Mail saved £500,000 in nine months by redesigning one form into plain English. I rest my case.

For most of us, clear writing doesn’t come naturally ― it is a skill we need to learn. But once mastered, it will be your best friend.  So my advice? Don’t leave home without it!

Remember, no-one will complain if your writing is too easy to understand.

Leonie Swift

Leonie is a plain English trainer and writing consultant with a strong interest in adult literacy. Through her business, Plain English Matters, she offers training workshops in how to create elegant, easy-to-understand documents. Leonie is a qualified librarian and holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116)