On October 13, celebrate International Plain Language Day

On October 13, celebrate International Plain Language Day
  • Take a plain language writing course. Learn and develop the skills you need for clear communication.
  • Look at a document and do a plain language audit. How could you change it to make it clearer and more concise?
  • Ask all levels of government to use plain language for all their brochures, forms, reports, and other public information.

Plain language writing means all readers can easily find the information they need, understand what they find, and use it. This is important for people at all reading levels.

Plain language writing is based on research into best practices for what helps people read and understand information.

  • Organize a document in a way that helps readers find the info they need. Use a Table of Contents, headings and subheadings, and, where appropriate, bullet and number lists, tables, and other design or formatting features.
  • Include only essential information. Leave out the extras.
  • Write short sentences, paragraphs, and sections. Does each sentence have just one idea? Does the heading / subheading match the info that follows? Does each section focus on just one theme?
  • Use fewer words and words common to the readers and the topic. Avoid jargon. Define or avoid acronyms and technical words.
  • Use the active voice and a positive tone.
  • Pay attention to layout and design features. Do they help people skim and find the info they need? Is there lots of white space in margins and between paragraphs and sections? Is the main font at least 12 point and a dark colour against a light background? Does the font for headings and subheadings contrast well with main text font (e.g. size, type). Is the text justified left and ragged right? Do diagrams, tables, and other graphics help readers understand and use the information? 
  • Ask: Is the text free of all bias and stereotypes related to gender, race, sexual identity and orientation, ethnic origin, disability, etc.

In 2004 the NWT Literacy Council did a report called Putting Plain Language Into Practice. Aggie Brockman did the research and wrote the report. The purpose was to look at how governments across Canada use plain language and to recommend how the GNWT could develop and follow a plan to do that. 

To date, I am not aware of any overall GNWT plain language policy or plan. But I DO know that many GNWT departments and agencies produce some plain language documents, such as: 

  • Summaries of Acts and regulations
  • Reports, strategic plans
  • Public information about programs and services
  • Letters and forms
  • Guidelines for researchers and other professionals who work closely with communities

I have done plain language work with the NWT Literacy Council since 1999. We offer fee-for-service writing and editing. I work as a sub-contractor and I love my work. Each project is different, interesting, and offers many challenges and rewards. Check out the NWT Literacy Council plain language resources.

-    Mary McCreadie, Plain Language consultant 

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.