Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Writing can be challenging. It’s not easy to translate thoughts into written words. We don’t often get the opportunity to practice different styles of writing, so when we’re tasked with writing in a less familiar format, it can feel daunting.
I had planned to write about a different topic this month, but I found myself struggling to express clear and actionable information. As I took a step back to reflect on my writing process, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the plain language strategies I use when writing this blog.
Have an Actionable Purpose
When we have a clear understanding of our purpose for writing, it becomes much easier to generate ideas. One strategy that helps me have a clear purpose is to identify an action I want people to take as a result of reading this blog.
An example of this is the post from September, It’s Time to Cancel “Illiteracy” - Why We Don’t Say “Illiterate”. The goal is pretty clear from the title: at Literacy Works, we encourage people to stop using the words “illiterate” and “illiteracy.” Once I had a clear goal, I structured the rest of the writing to explain what to do and why it’s important.
Write for Your Audience
Think about who your audience is and what information they’re looking for. Even when you’re pushing out information, like in a newsletter or flyer, people are still making a choice to engage with what you’re sharing. Why are they reading it? What do they want to learn or accomplish? What do they need to know to use this information? Being able to answer these questions will help you write appropriately for your audience.
When I think about writing this blog, I know my audience is people seeking actionable information about plain language. You want steps you can apply to your own writing, not just philosophical thoughts about plain language. And many of you come to us at Literacy Works because of how we connect our work to larger social concerns, justice, and equity. I try to write about this explicitly in each of the blog posts.
Keep It Simple
Keeping it simple isn’t just about writing in a way that your reader can understand, it also impacts the tone of your writing. I want the tone of this blog to be professional, and I want my readers to feel comfortable. I can do that by using common, everyday words and intentionally explaining technical terms when I need to use them. I also avoid terms that can imply judgment, like “you should,” “never,” and “make sure.”
The structure of our writing is as important as our word choice. I generally try to use short and straightforward sentences. A helpful writing tip I learned in college is if you need to use a longer, more complex sentence, sandwich it between two shorter sentences. This gives the reader a mental break.
When we write with a clear purpose, audience, and tone, we can connect with our readers and build trusting relationships. We can more successfully get our message across and our audience can get what they need.