Tips for Writing in Clear, Plain English

Stuck for Words

Copywriting’s first aim is to communicate clearly and concisely. You’re not going to persuade people to buy your product if they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. There is, however, an abundance of badly written websites cluttering up the web.

Perhaps it’s because people think writing is easy.

Why pay a professional to do something you learned at school, right?

However, concise writing can be a marketing advantage if you’re able to spell out your arguments more quickly, clearly and more often than your competitors.

Recently, I was asked for advice on improving a property investment website’s content. After running a readability test I was able to show them in cold, hard figures why their copy needed translating into plain English if they wanted to convert more visitors into clients.*

For anybody else struggling to push their Flesch Reading Ease score above 50%, here are my tips for writing in clear, plain English:

  1. Aim for an average sentence length of 15-20 words
  2. Vary between long and short sentences to help the flow and make your points punchy
  3. Assign one idea per sentence, and add another point if it’s closely related
  4. Write in the active voice to keep your sentences lively
  5. Remember that you’re writing for the reader, rather than yourself. Whilst a thesaurus might be useful for sprucing up school essays, clear writing shouldn’t include words simply to sound impressive
  6. Don’t use long words when a short one will do
  7. Avoid slang unless you’re trying to get down with the kids, in which case you’re trying too hard already
  8. People like writing that speaks to them as humans rather than dictates. So use ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ to keep your writing friendly
  9. Don’t use technical jargon and gobbledygook, unless they’re terms your target reader is familiar with
  10. Use positive, inspiring language that motivates readers. Say how your product ‘will’ solve their problem and how you ‘can’ save them lots of money
  11. Avoid negative words, such as ‘can’t’, ‘don’t’ and ‘won’t’.
  12. Start sentences using connectors to split long ones in two, such as ‘but’, ‘so’ and ‘because’
  13. Wield an axe and chop out unnecessary words. Brevity is the basis of clear writing
  14. Use subheadings, bullet points and summaries to aid skim readers
  15. When you’ve finished, read it out loud. Does it sound natural? If not, refer to points 1-15.

* To check the readability stats of a Word file – go to tools → options → spelling and grammar tab → tick the ‘Show readability stats’ box. After running a spell check you can then see the number of passive sentences, Flesch Reading Ease score (aim is 60% for plain English) and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (a score of 7 equates to a reading age of 12, which is desirable for clear readability).

9 thoughts on “Tips for Writing in Clear, Plain English

  1. Great tips here…

    I had never thought that readers would rather prefer clear and plain English, as most of them were highly educated peoples…

    Also, thanks for the Flesch Reading Ease score as well, will try it on later…


  2. Hi Wilson,

    You should always take your target audience into consideration when gauging your writing style and vocabulary. However, writing in clear, plain English simply ensures as wide an audience as possible can easily read your copy.

    I’m glad you found the tips useful.


  3. Thank you for writing this. I’ve come into a new job and a new set of problems. I’ve taken on the task of rewriting a lot of copy on my companies website. We’ve been trying very hard to get out ranking on google up. This will help me out quite a bit.

  4. Thanks Dan, glad you found them useful.

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