Are you speaking my language?

Sophie Baines
2 min readFeb 6, 2019

Doctors told to ditch Latin and use plain English read the headline earlier this year, but why did it take so long for this common sense directive to be made? Who could possibly argue with the need to speak to patients or customers in language they understand?

You may be surprised that despite the Plain English Campaign ‘fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979’, we still find resistance to communicating with customers in a clear way.

Resisting the wave

Why do people refuse to write in plain English? The reasons are varied but here are a few:

‘If I use simple language, I will sound unprofessional and lack authority …’

Using plain English does not mean you are ‘dumbing down’. Research shows that the more educated a person is the more they want to read information in plain English.

I have to use certain language and terms for legal reasons…’

This is never or rarely true. We can always explain legal terms so everyone can understand them.

‘Less friendly content puts a safe distance between me and my customers…’

More often than not, the passive voice is a cop-out. As one writing coach says, the passive voice is ‘the last refuge of cowards’.

‘I learnt how to write at school so what I say is correct…’

There are many different ways to communicate and the ‘rules’ constantly evolve to fit different channels of communication. A report-writing style will not work on a web page viewed via a mobile phone, for instance.

How you can help

We want to make sure key content on reaches plain English and readability standards - but we can only do it with the help of council employees.

Writing in an accessible way is a discipline and not one we would expect you to develop overnight.

Help us when we ask you questions about what you need to convey online so that, together, we can cut through the noise and say it how it is.

Readability score for this post: 68.6*

*What this?

Readability scores tell us how easy a piece of content is to read. The Flesch reading ease score is one of the oldest and most accurate formulas. A score of 60–70 is acceptable for web copy. We want to reach a score of 70 on pages used by our most vulnerable customers.