Definitions

Read first the definition of Standard English before reading the definitions of plain language. Standard English is the common denominator for all other forms of English, especially written English. Standard English and plain English [plain language] are not the same thing, but a working understanding of the definition of Standard English provides fertile ground for growing your plain-language skills.

Standard English:  the English that with respect to spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary is substantially uniform though not devoid of regional differences, that is well established by usage in the formal and informal speech and writing of the educated, and that is widely recognized as acceptable wherever English is spoken and understood.

Plain Language: How Some Writers Define It

When reading these definitions, look for what they have in common.

  • Martin Cutts, in the Oxford Guide to Plain English: “[Plain language is] the writing and setting out of essential information in a way that gives a co-operative, motivated person a good chance of understanding it at first reading, and in the same sense that the author meant it to be understood.”
  • Minister Supply and Services Canada, in Plain Language Clear and Simple: “Plain language writing is a technique of organizing information in ways that make sense to the reader. It uses straightforward, concrete, familiar words….Using plain language to explain concepts and procedures involves using examples that relate to your reader’s experience.”
  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in A Plain English Handbook: “Plain English means analyzing and deciding what  information investors need to make informed decisions, before words, sentences, or paragraphs are considered. A plain English document uses words economically and at a level  the  audience can understand. Its sentence structure is tight. Its tone  is welcoming and direct. Its design is visually appealing. A plain English document is easy  to read  and looks  like it’s meant to be read  (p. 5).
  • Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), the Federal Plain Language Guidelines: Plain language is writing that helps “users…
    • find what they need,
    • understand what they find; and
    • use what they find to meet their needs.”
  • Wikipedia: “Plain language is clear, succinct writing designed to ensure the reader understands as quickly and completely as possible. Plain language strives to be easy to read, understand, and use. It avoids verbose, convoluted language and jargon.”

Find more definitions of plain language at http://www.plainlanguage.gov/whatisPL/definitions/.