Communication skills

Plain English means no waffle

- November 4, 2011 2 MIN READ

The flexibility of words is a powerful business tool that can be utilised so successfully, but complex and obscure sentences are neither productive nor rewarding. It is better to write using Plain English.

Would you rather read:

It is incumbent upon management to display appropriate behaviour and verbalise what is consistent with the messages that are being conveyed via your business communication methodologies. (James, N. 2007)


As a manager, you should always demonstrate the communication methods of your business. (James, N. 2007)

Written communication is a key business communication strategy, whether it is in reports, copy, newsletters, emails or websites. It reflects the quality of your business product, attention to detail and emphasises quality management.

Clear communications written in Plain English can save time, stress and money in the workplace and in the business community, and contribute to improved processes and efficiencies.

What is Plain English?

I attended a short seminar on Plain English writing recently and it felt like the sun had finally shone through the grey and dense cloud that I’ve carried with me since my school days in fear-filled grammar classrooms. Coming from an academic and health background, my burden with heavy writing has been tiresome.

Plain English is a flexible and efficient writing style that readers can understand in one reading. It combines clear, concise expression, an effective structure and good document design. Finally, I have a systematic structure on which to develop business writing that has clarity and efficiency, is readable and yet persuasive.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

Some easy rules are:

  • Think about your readership before you write, and write to them. Focus on your reader and make it relevant, easy to read and unambiguous.
  • Put your main message in the opening paragraph with supporting information.
  • Use a formal but friendly tone, and an active rather than passive voice. ‘You can submit by Friday’ sounds more inviting than ‘It is suggested that consideration be given to submitting by close of business Friday’.
  • Avoid jargon, even if you’re writing in-house communication.
  • Be direct and clear using short, familiar words. Sentences of 15-20 words are good, but a variance in sentence length is good as well.
  • Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • Effective editing and proofreading processes.
  • A simple structure for a non-complex document is to identify the issue, discuss the implications, discuss your conclusion, and finish with a call to action to address the issue.

Have you noticed strained business relationships or lost opportunities due to poor communication? Please share your examples below.