Plain Language in Technical Documentation

by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — software documentation tool

Recently I wrote a post for ClickHelp about the importance of using plain language in technical documentation and provided 11 tips for those, who want to write clearly. Let’s take a sneak peek at the major thoughts.

Technical writing or technical communication is about delivery of technical information to the general audience. Using plain language in technical documentation allows to make the writing clear, concise and helpful to readers.

Plain language writing helps the target audience easily perceive information, avoid misunderstandings and save time, because it gets the job done the first time.

Defining Plain Language

Professor Robert Eagleson, former Associate Professor of Modern English Language at the University of Sydney describes plain language as following:

  • Plain language is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as necessary;
  • It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction;
  • It is not baby talk, nor it is a simplified version of the English language;
  • Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language;
  • They make sure that the audience understands the message easily.

Plain language is writing that the intended audience can understand and act upon the first time they read it.

One of the types of technical writing is legal writing. Its distinguishing features include the tendency toward excessively complicated grammar and overformality. Compare the following examples to get the idea of the plain language writing.

The first two paragraphs contain superfluous information that is unnecessary for the reader, and only the last paragraph implies the purpose of the message. Moreover, the whole letter is written in an overly official manner with long sentences, uncommon words and clichés, which make it hard to read.

Let’s see if plain language can improve this piece of writing.

The official message contains 153 word, while the plain language version uses only 77. Both messages are broke into 3 paragraphs i.e. 3 ideas, which were carefully preserved in the second version. It is as well obvious that the second message is much easier to read and to scan through. All these benefits are achieved by the means of plain language.

Continue reading: Basics of Plain Language in Technical Documentation and you’ll learn 11 tips of plain language writing!


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Bradley Nice,
Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors