Think About Your Audience
One of the most popular plain language myths is that you have to "dumb down" your content so that everyone everywhere can read it. That's not true. The first rule of plain language is: write for your audience. Use language your audience knows and feels comfortable with. Take your audience's current level of knowledge into account. Don't write for an 8th grade class if your audience is composed of PhD candidates, small business owners, working parents or immigrants. Only write for 8th graders if your audience is, in fact, an 8th grade class.
Make sure you know who your audience is – don't guess or assume.
You have to grab your audience's attention if you want to get your ideas across. Let's face it, people want to know just what applies to them. The best way to grab and hold someone's attention is to figure out who they are and what they want to know. Put yourself in their shoes; it will give you a new perspective. (Read Identify your users and their top tasks for more information.)
Tell your audience why the material is important to them. Say, "If you want a research grant, here's what you have to do." Or, "If you want to mine federal coal, here's what you should know." Or, "If you are planning a trip to Rwanda, read this first."
Identifying your audience will do more than ensure that you write clearly. It will also help you focus on the audience's needs. Start out by thinking about what your audience knows about the situation now. Then, think about how to guide them from their current knowledge to what you need them to know. To help you do this, try answering the following questions:
Organization is key. Start by stating the document's purpose and its bottom line. Eliminate filler and unnecessary content. Put the most important information at the beginning and include background information (when necessary) toward the end.
Write Your Document
With a relatively small amount of effort and in a relatively short amount of time, you can significantly improve traditionally–written material.
Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Choose your words carefully – be precise and concise.