A plain English checklist for charities

The Plain English Campaign believes that “everyone should be able to read, understand and act on public information after a single reading”. That’s surely something all charities should aim for too. What could be more important than making sure your charity writing is readable?

So before you start leveraging synergies to achieve world-class outcomes on key deliverables, stop and think. Here are six questions to ask yourself every time you write something for your charity:

1. Have you used long words where short ones would suffice do?

Why say “sufficient” when you could say “enough”, or “excessively” instead of “too”? Whenever there’s a short, everyday alternative, use it.

2. Have you used passive verbs instead of active ones?

Passive sentences clog up your writing. Make them active instead: the cat sat on the mat (active – it’s the cat that’s doing the action), not the mat was sat on by the cat (passive – the mat’s not doing anything, so why make it the focus of the sentence?) Instead of saying that a decision was made, tell us who decided.

3. Are you using nouns when you could be using verbs?

Look out for nouns like “completion”, “provision” and “reduction” – you’ll often find they’ve taken the place of perfectly good verbs (complete, provide, reduce).

By taking the doing element out of a sentence, they make your writing lifeless. Instead of writing there was an increase in our training provision, it’s better to write we provided more training.

4. Are all the words necessary?

Have you said something is “totally unique”? Stated the obvious by saying that “it goes without saying”? Described something as “new and innovative”? Stuck in the word “currently” to describe something that’s already in the present tense?

Go through every word you write, and ask if it really needs to be there. If it doesn’t: cut.

5. Could your sentences be shorter?

Long, complex sentences are hard to follow. Aim for an average sentence length of 15-20 words (fewer online) – though make sure you vary your sentence length too. Try to trim anything over 30 words – it might be better to make two sentences.

6. Is there any jargon?

Because you’re surrounded by the professional vocabulary your charity uses, it’s easy to forget that some words mean nothing to an external audience.

Look out for specialist language, and ask yourself if you’d have understood it before you began working in the sector. Could you imagine reading it in The Sun or hearing it on the ITV news? Would your mum understand it?

If not – make sure you explain what you’re saying. Or better still find a plain English alternative.

Can I help you edit out the jargon in your writing? Contact me today.

This entry was posted in Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *