English is a style of writing text that is easy to read. It is easy to
read by its intended readers. Therefore, Plain English isn't
necessarily easy to read by all readers - it is easy to read by its
intended readers - and it is not always written using very short words
and sentences - it uses words that aren't too long for its intended
readers. In addition to being easy to read Plain English should be easy
to understand. It should also be clear. Plain English and Clear Writing
are not the same thing. Although Plain English should also be clear
writing, clear writing might not be Plain English.
Clear and Effective Writing
Prefer the shorter word.
Prefer the correct word
Write shorter sentences.
Write clear sentences
Use nominalizations correctly.
Use you when referring to the reader.
Make your subjects the doers of the action.
Use the active voice rather than the passive.
Use the active voice, except when the passive is appropriate for reasons of style.
Readability software indicates how well we have succeeded in writing Plain English, but it is only an indication.
software indicates how readable our text is. However, we seek to make
our text clear and effective for our intended reader, and readability
scores may be wildly wrong.
Consider the following sentence:
The bone the dog the milk drank bit the cat.
has a Flesch Reading Ease of 100, meaning everyone can read it. Of
course, no one can. Even though text might be written using simple
words and short sentences, it may be difficult or impossible to
The sentence below is easy to read - it has a Flesch reading ease of 100 - but difficult to understand:
The old man the boat.
The following sentence of 72 words is for me a brilliant sentence. It is clear and effective.
century later, during the course of the Second World War, the first
electronic incarnations of Babbage's machine would have a profound
effect on cryptanalysis, but in his own lifetime, Babbage made an
equally important contribution to codebreaking: he succeeded in
breaking the Vigenère cipher and in so doing he made the
greatest breakthrough in cryptanalysis since the Arab scholars of the
ninth century broke the mono-alphabetic cipher by inventing frequency
analysis. Simon SinghThe Cracking Codebook Harper Collins 2001 (72 words)
its Flesch Reading Ease Score is 0, suggesting only a minute
perecentage of the population could understand it. This is clearly
Main Barriers to Clear and Effective Writing
own writing seems clear enough to us. Should a friend ask us what we
meant by something we had written, we are able to explain it to them,
because we understand it. Yet the fact that we need to explain it
indicates that what we have written is not clear to all readers; in
particular, our friend.
We can judge the clarity and effectiveness of others' writing
better than we can judge our own
we can very quickly and accurately determine whether the writing of
others is clear and effective, we are not so able when it comes to our
own writing. When others tell us our writing is obscure, we may be
puzzled because it seems clear enough to us. This is true
only when we have written something recently, because, later, after we
have forgotten what we have written and re-read it, we may realise that
it wasn't as clear as we thought.
Why we almost always believe our writing is clear and
effective (even thought it might not be)
you wish to write something, you
have in mind something you wish to communicate and you translate this
into words. Your readers seeks to understand what you have written and
read your article, forming certain ideas in their minds as they read
the words. If they can do this, without too much difficulty, they will
writing to be clear, but if they stumble or hesitate over the words or
the way you
have expressed yourself, they will judge your writing as unclear or
difficult. Largely, they will easily read what you have written if
are led from familiar information to new, unfamiliar
(if they are familiar with everything you have written, they have no
reason to read it!) and
they quickly grasp the point of your writing.
you write something, you begin by understanding what you want to say
and why you want to say it, and then translate this into words. But
your readers do the reverse: they begin with your words, and through
reading hope to understand your message. That is, your readers need to infer
what you want to say and why you want to say it from your words. They
will succeed in this to the degree you have succeeded in translating
your ideas into language. It is extremely difficult for you to judge
this simply by re-reading, because you cannot read your own writing as
a reader would read it, because you already know, what your readers
need to infer.
words "clear and effective", which we use to judge writing, do not
refer to the words we read, but to our feelings about those words.
words "clear and effective", which we can
use to judge the writing of others, do not refer to anything in the
writing, but refer to our feeling towards it. Because you already know
what you want to communicate, when you read our own
writing you tend to have a good feeling about it and judge it as being
clear and effective. Others reading it might make a different
They may do this because all they have to understand your message is
the words you have used, whereas you understand what you have in mind
to communicate, and your words are an attempt to express this. Because
the reader is better able to judge text than the writer is, it is
to urge ourselves and others to write clearly and
effectively, when we cannot effectively judge our own writing and they
cannot judge theirs. What we need are benchmarks or yardsticks to gauge our
writing, gauges that refer
more directly to the words we use and how we arrange them, a set of
principles that guide us to making specific changes which make our
writing clearer and more effective. Readability
Tests and Software can also help.
How can we judge our own writing (and that of others)?
order to judge your own writing, you need to rely on practical principles
rather than on your feelings about your writing, because the feeling
have about your own writing may not be the same as those felt by your
readers. Therefore you need to use practical principles, such as those
mentioned later on this page, for example:
use familiar words,
use shorter sentences,
By using practical principles, you can identify possible areas of
misunderstanding and make your writing clearer and more effective.
the Principles of Plain English?
There are two main purposes in learning the principles of Plain English:
Your readers will better understand what you intend to communicate
You will be able to use these principles to unravel the obscure writing
of others (as a study skill).
That is, you are more likely to communicate with your readers if you write
clearly and effectively. While you can hope that others seek to write clearly
and effectively too, you will often find you have to
read badly written text. However, you can use these
rules of Plain English to help you read the obscure writing of others, improving your ability to study and to understand.
If we think of the
Persistence Question as asking which of the characters introduced at
the beginning of a story have survived to become the characters at the
end of it, we can also ask how many characters are on the stage at any
The writer appears to be saying:
Persistence Question is: "For what reasons can we say that a character
existing at the end of a story is the same person as one present at the
A bus company employee manual states:
passengers cannot be accepted because of the potential overload of the
vehicle, you should inform positively of the situation
possible provide appropriate information as to how to complete the
Ex-bus-driver, Guy Gibson suggests, the driver says:
full. There will be another one along in a few minutes.
"If you pass your test for
a larger vehicle category, in certain circumstances a lower category
will be upgraded. This does not apply, however, to a driver who has
already passed a test which involves trailer entitlement for a larger
or equivalent vehicle."
have no idea what this means. I cannot edit it without doing more
research. It seems to say that if you pass a test to drive a larger
vehicle, such as a truck, your license to drive a smaller one, say a
car, will be upgraded. I can understand this.
it says this is not so, if you have already passed a test to drive a
larger vehicle with a trailer. My confusion arises because I
should someone take a test to drive a larger
vehicle when they have already passed a test to drive a large vehicle
with a trailer? (Assuming this test is of a higher category, and would
entitle the driver to drive such a vehicle without a trailer)
a test for a larger vehicle with a trailer seems to give more
entitlement than just passing a test for a larger vehicle, so why does
this not upgrade the lower category?
communications are clearly important, but when they are not clear they
cannot be effective. This example shows we cannot always unravel
sentences, and they sometimes remain a mystery.
Whether writing is clear and effective, or not, depends on the intended reader.
For example, a report for post-graduate quantum
physicists is judged as clear and effective, if it is clear and
effective in communicating its message to post-graduate quantum physicists.
However, if such a report were intended
for the general reader, it
would probably be described as dense and obscure. Similarly, a message
about a recent scientific discovery would
be written in different words and using different sentence forms when
written for a professional journal than it would be written for a
newspaper. And a notice on a wall is clear and effective when it is
in a way that a passer-by can take in its meaning at a glance.
general, a message is clear and effective when it is written using
words that are familiar to the intended reader and uses sentences of a
reasonable length, meaning that the intended reader is willing and able
to understand them. When expressing complicated ideas, the words may be
long and the sentences long too, but they should not be longer than the
subject matter demands. Sentences covering two pages, are too long for
any purpose. And sentences of 15 words may be too short for others.
writing for particular readers, you need to note whether they will take
the trouble to understand what you have written - using study
and reference books, in which case they will probably be your students
or professional colleagues - or whether
will read your message once only and either understand it
or misunderstand it. In which case, they will take in some
other message and wrongly attribute it to you. When you can expect
readers - or, to be frank, require or compel them - to study what you
have written, you can use words they will not at first understand
and you can use challenging sentence structures but when you cannot
expect your readers to do more than read what
have written in one go, you need to use simpler
You communicate more
effectively when you use words that are familiar to your readers.
Familiar words are often short words, but not always: for instance, impossible
is a long word, but it is also a familiar one. This rule does not say you should use only
words found in the local newspaper, but says you should use only words
commonly found in the material your readers commonly read. In some
cases, this means you use words which are unknown to the general
reader, but familiar to your particular readers. For instance, you
when writing for bee-keepers, but prefer bee-hive when
writing for general readers.
do not understand a word, they will may guess its meaning. They may
realise they are doing this or they may do it automatically - often
relating the unknown word to a known word. If the word is similar to a
word they know, they will assume the unknown word means about the same
as the word they do know. For instance, they may think an exhaustive study was one that was tiring, because exhaustive is similar to the familiar word exhausting.
In this case, the reader's understanding may be similar to the writer's
intended meaning - if the study was exhausting, then the investigators
must have worked hard on the study to get so tired, so they probably
left no stone unturned (they were exhaustive). The writer and the
reader have struck lucky, even though the reader has misunderstood the
However, the writer might not be so lucky. For instance, the word compliment is more familiar than the word complement.
If we are told "She rose quickly in the company because she complements
him in his work", some readers might think that she is very flattering
to him - compliments him - and might view the statement negatively:
thinking he is vain and corruptible, promoting her above more able
colleagues because she makes him feel bigheaded and puffed-up like a
frog, and she is a bootlicker and a creep because she seeks power
through her feminine wiles and not through her intelligence and
ability, they may think this instead of correctly thinking her
strengths in business make up for his weaknesses, so together they make
a powerful team. Even though further statements might correct this
misunderstanding, the harm has been done, and - at the least - the
reader is confused. More likely, these negative feelings might be
hard to dispel, clouding further understanding. While making no error
in grammar or diction the writer has failed to get through to the
The work remains a
nonpareil: direct, correct and delightful. - New Yorker
The delightful word nonpareil
is not a familiar word to some readers. It means a person or thing with
no equal. For general readers, we prefer unequalled or peerless.
Readers misunderstand unfamiliar words rather than simply
fail to understand them
might think that readers will simply not understand any unfamiliar
words you use. However,
readers tend to guess the meanings of
unfamiliar words. For instance, many general readers do not understand the
underlined words in "The study was extensive
and tend to interpret the sentence as meaning, "The study was very tiring
and expensive.", because they think the words mean something like expensive and exhausting,
words they are familiar with. Writers who are familiar with many words
think this example is a weak joke; whereas it isn't. It is very easy
for writers with a large vocabulary to overestimate the vocabulary of
We train our students to
analyse technical reports with some sophistication.
reader might wonder whether this means that students are taught to
analyse in a sophisticated manner, or to analyse sophisticated
If we go for a simpler word than sophisticated, we might prefer to
We train our students to
correctly analyse technical reports.
We train our students to
analyse complex technical reports.
Our choice depending on our intended meaning.
Perspicuity in prose
writing is enhanced through the felicitous choice of lexical units.
As felicitous means appropriate, and perspicuity means clarity, we
The right choice of words
The following sentence isn't hard. It represents the ability of an
average 13 year-old, and a reading ease of 68%.
a tendency to break the diet when you see these highly palatable foods.
That sets it up so you get into a cycle
naughtiness. It gets you into a momentum - hooked on that sort of
Because tendency is a verbal noun, we write You tend to break.
And highly palatable
foods are tasty
foods. The second sentence seems to say, That sets up a cycle of
isn't necessary because a cycle is intermittent. So we have:
You tend to break the diet
when you see these tasty foods. That sets up a cycle of naughtiness. You get hooked on this cycle.
This has a reading ease of 97% so most people can read and understand
it easily, which is important when you intend to communicate health advice to general readers.
List of Confusing Words
Familiar words make writing
clearer. Some words are more likely to cause confusion, than other
words, making the text less clear. The list below contains
examples of words
that might be confusing. Depending on the readers, therefore, you might
choose to avoid confusing words, preferring a less confusing word or
Some readers might confuse
with a mental problem or with a false perception.
supplement, round off
This word might be
confused with compliment.
stopping; non stop
siren wails continuously,
without stopping, but a ticking sound occurs continually,
or again and again.
frequent, again and again
a story is credible,
then we believe it. A person's behaviour is creditable
when it is worthy and good.
In physics, we
might speak of discrete
particles. If we tell a secret to someone, we expect them to be discreet.
is okay, but diffuse
might be confused with defuse by some
person is bad in some way; perhaps, hostile. An exceptional
person is not bad in any way; they are simply different.
out of the ordinary
Some readers believe that
means tiring, because they confuse it with the more familiar
is just that a grisly
story might lead some readers to expect bears at some stage.
a store of something
avoid misunderstandings with these words, a synonym might be preferred.
authorities believe that the use of militate as a substitute for
mitigate is an American idiom: most American authorities believe the
confusion of these words is an error in both languages.
to lessen (severity)
There is a difference between law and cannons!
guns, cannons, etc
these words have quite different meaning, the reading-challenged tend
to confuse them, with serious results.
perk, tip or gratuity
Some years ago, a business student asked me what "management perquisites" were. I was unsure, but we guessed they were "perks".
The two words have almost opposite meanings. Prescribe is well-known; proscribe is used less frequently.
cut the wool from sheep,
The pairs of words
are homophones, words that sound the same, but are spelt differently,
and have a different meaning. Confusion can occur in speech, and in
writing when we are unsure of the spelling of these words.
writing materials, etc
an account of events
can have amusing results - for bystanders. For general readers,
titivate might be better replaced with smarten up.
to smarten up
twisting and turning
A tortuous journey might also be pleasant, although a torturous journey is not.
clouding, opaque (liquid)
Turbid writing is
vague and unclear. Turgid writing is wordy and perhaps written more to
impress than to communicate. Writing may be turgid but not turnbid, and
not enjoying the company
If you work late, you
work unsocial hours, but it doesn't mean you are unsociable - you might
dislike working these hours and prefer to socialize.
interfering with social
a non damming sin
related to sex
are easier to read than longer ones. This is because it takes less time
to move the eye (and to sub vocalize) shorter words. Therefore,
when the reader is expected to read text without much effort,
the writer should prefer the shorter word to the longer one. Text
containing many long words is dense and reading such text is much
harder than reading text that mainly contains shorter words. On the
other hand, text that
contains many short words can be monotonous. When the writer needs to
communicate a message quickly to readers (such as a notice), the writer
should use shorter words. While writers use more longer words when
writing technical articles, they would make their writing less dense by
balancing their use of longer words with shorter words, if they wish to
How to Write Shorter Words
The writer can:
Use a dictionary, which might indicate a shorter expression.
Read the etymology of the word in a good dictionary, which
might suggest a simpler word or expression.
Use a thesaurus to find a shorter word, which will probably
be two word substitute.
List of Shorter Word Equivalents
Shorter words are
easier to read than longer ones. Where appropriate, you might prefer
the shorter word or phrase to the longer one.
lessen, reduce, ease
at hand, handy, in stock
lead to, give to, add to
even so, however
even so, however
By changing a word or group of words into a noun, you make a
nominalization is a word or group of words which is changed into a
noun, sometimes by adding a suffix. Nominalizations are often derived
but they can be derived from other parts of speech, such as adjectives.
Verbal nominalizations are nouns derived from verbs. You can nominalize
the verb imply
by turning it into the noun implication.
If you turn "The new report implied that he was corrupt, which angered
him." into a nominalization, "The implication angered him.",
lose the subject, the new report, and the object, "that he was
corrupt". When you do this, you hide the subject and the object of the
verb, making your writing denser and vaguer. Your readers no longer
know what the
implication was, nor who made it. You can make your writing clearer by
the number of nominalizations of verbs.
The importation of
timber from endangered forests is a crime.
The word importation
is called a nominalization
because it is a noun which comes from a verb: the verb is import.
Sentences are often clearer when they are rewritten using an active
instead of the nominalization. They are even better when you give the
verb a concrete subject. For instance, ask who, or what, is importing this
wood, and the answer gives us a concrete person. For instance:
Companies who import
timber from endangered forests without a licence commit a crime.
Identify the nominalization. In this case, it is importation.
Find the verb. Here it is import.
verbs have subjects, the doer of the verb's action. We can identify the
subject by asking, "Who or what is importing?" Sometimes, we need to
guess the answer. In the above example, we guess companies. That is
"companies import something".
Find the object by asking, "Who or what is being imported?"
In this case it is timber
that is being imported.
the sentence using simple sentences. This can be done in note form, and
does not have to be correct English. Here we have
timber. The timber is from endangered forests. They do it without a
licence. They commit a crime."
We can give
thought to how the
sentences are related. The second one describes the timber in the first
sentence, "timber from endangered forests", and the third sentence
tells us about the condition of importing (if). And the last says what
the consequences are, that is, "they commit a crime".
these simple sentences into ones of reasonable length. For
"Companies who import
timber from endangered forests without a licence
commit a crime."
The formalization of the
process has alienated the members.
The nominalization is formalization.
The verbs is formalize.
We do not know who did the formalizing, but guess we. "We
"the process" is what is formalized. "We formalized the
Using simple sentences, we have "We formalized the process.
Something has alienated the members."
The sentences are related by cause and effect, implying because.
We can combine the sentences to get:
Because we formalized the
process, we have alienated our members.
Consider this sentence:
of writing excessively long sentences in the absence
considerations, excepting an infrequent occurrence, is recommended.
Avoidance, absence, considerations and occurrence are nominalizations
from the verbs avoid,
(done without), and consider. The subject of avoid is
the writer. And what is avoided is excessively
long sentences. So, we can write "Avoidance of writing
excessively long sentences" as "you should avoid writing excessively
subject of the next verb, absent
or not done,
considerations", which is also a nominalization based on the verb consider.
The subject of consider
is, again, you the writer. And what you are considering is your reader.
So putting together the analysis of the last two nominalizations, we
get "without considering your readers". Putting this together with what
we have so far, we have,
"You should not write
excessively long sentences without considering your readers."
The next nominalization, the word occurrence,
means "something happening at a certain time", or "when something
happens". This something is "the writing of excessively long
sentences". If we ask, "Who is writing?", we find the subject is you, so we have:
write excessively long sentences". And because this is infrequent, we
have "excepting when you write excessively long sentences
Since we have already referred to long
can write, "excepting when you write such sentences
Putting all this together:
should avoid writing excessively long sentences without considering
your readers, excepting when you write such sentences infrequently.
We can tidy up this sentence. We can drop excessively,
because this is implied by "long sentences", and also drop the first
use of writing,
because this is implied. We can also write unless for
"excepting when". So we get:
avoid long sentences without considering
your readers, unless you write such sentences infrequently.
While the sentence is clearer, because it no longer has
nominalizations and we have created real subjects (you), it is
extremely negative. See the further work we need to do in the example below.
Nominalizations based on the verb to be
This is dependent
This depends on status.
An abstract idea is produced by the exclusion
By excluding details, you produce an abstract idea.
Success is the result
of hard work.
Success results from hard work.
There is significant opposition
among the voters.
The voters oppose it strongly.
There was a high incidence of recurrence.
It recurred frequently.
Verbal Nominalizations based on weak verbs
a test of
Scientists tested the substance.
We are concerned
about the incidence
of vandalism in the area.
We are concerned about vandalism in the area.
We are instigatinginquiries
into the matter.
We are inquiring
into the matter.
of the important books.
They selected the important books.
Acceptable Verbal Nominalizations
you use nominalizations inappropriately, they make your writing dense
and vague. But if they are used properly, they make your writing
Nominalizations summarizing previous ideas
By excluding details, you produce an abstract idea. Therefore, an abstraction has
fewer details than the original.
He campaigned against violent behaviour on the streets. He would not
tolerate street violence.
They selected the important books. This selection was
Nominalizations naming the verb's object
I was wondering about what
I was wondering about their conclusions.
What he had inferred
For the new year, I resolved to do some new things.
I made some New Year Resolutions.
He believed that individuals should be free to inspect what
organizations held about them on computer.
He believed in Freedom
They objected to women being allowed to ask doctors to abort their
foetuses, for non-medical reasons.
They objected to Abortion
We can also nominalize adjectives. The word apparent can become
the noun apparentness;
Your Subjects Doers
Refer to the Reader as You
Writing becomes easier when you refer to the reader as you.
When you do this, you are less likely to use nominalizations, passives
and round-about expressions. Your writing will be more coherent,
because you use you as the subject of your sentences. Similarly, refer
to yourself the writer, or your organisation, as I or we. This technique
of using pronouns can be a very simple and effective way of making your
writing clearer and more cohesive.
Make Your Subjects Doers
teachers often teach children that the subject of a sentence is "the
doer of the action". This is true for effective sentences, but not for
ineffective ones. When the subject of a sentence isn't "the doer", we
should change the sentence so the subject is "the doer". A simple way
to do this is to use "you" and "we" as the "doers" in the sentence.
depends on employee courtesy.
that satisfaction is a nominalization, we can identify the real verb as
can ask, "Who satisfies whom?" A
possible answer is, "We
satisfy our customers
with our service." We do it by "being courteous to them." This gives us:
We satisfy our customers
better if we are courteous to them.
When dense writing contains sentences which we consider too long, the
easiest way to make sentences clearer and more effective is to shorten
them. Also, we might do this when trying to understand the writing
of others, for instance, when studying a textbook. When all else fails,
we might convert long sentences into very short sentences to clarify
our thoughts, recombining them in the light of our new understanding
We can shorten sentences:
By removing redundancy from the sentence.
By splitting long sentences.
How to Write Shorter Sentences
Sentences containing and,but, or orcan often be
shortened by ending the sentence before these words, and beginning a
new one after capitalising, for instance:
Jack went up the hill and
Jill went up the hill.
Jack went up the hill. And Jill went up the hill.
This and other sentences illustrate the technique; they
aren't necessarily good or better sentences. In real life, we can use these
techniques on pythonic sentences to make them more effective. Of course, we
would say the above sentence, as learned in nursery school! (Jack and Jill went
up the hill.)
Sentences containing subordinating conjunctions such as while
can be split by dropping the subordinating conjunction, and changing
the comma to a full stop. For instance:
He ate a hearty meal,
although he was sentenced to die the next day. He ate a hearty
meal. Even though
he was sentenced to die the next day.
mature students should not be encouraged to write like 12 year olds,
they should know how to write simple sentences when necessary Mature students
should not be encouraged to write like 12 year-olds. However, they should
know how to write simple sentences when necessary.
He would not eat his food,
he did not like it.
He would not eat his food. (For )He did not like it.
They could not give the patient water to drink, because
she did not have a swallow reflex. They could not give
the patient water to drink. She did not have a swallow
he went home, he visited his aunt. He went home. Before that, he
visited his aunt. Better:
He visited his aunt. Then went home. (Change order and omit
She carefully tested the mixture before
she injected it into the patient. She carefully tested
the mixture. Then
she injected it into the patient.
Examples of Shorter Sentences
there are exceptions, a re-draught containing shorter words and shorter
sentences is much more readable and easy to understand than the
original, especially by lay readers. (27 words)
re-draught containing shorter words and shorter sentences is much more
readable than the original. It is also easier to understand. This is
especially true for lay readers. Of course, there are exceptions.
Such redundant expressions
and their attendant “To be” verb, can often be
eliminated to good effect, simply by omitting the expression, finding
the real subject of the sentence, and using a real verb to make it a
redundant expressions and their attendant "To be" verb, can often be
eliminated to good effect. First, omit the expression. Then, find the
real subject of the sentence, and finally, use a real verb to make it a
What you need to do in
conflict resolution is to bring the people who believe that the answer
to their political ambitions will be achieved through violence into a
frame of mind that they accept that their political ambitions will be
delivered by politics. (44 words)
resolve conflict, you need to bring those people who believe violence
is the answer to their political ambitions to believe they can achieve
them better through politics.
you need to do in conflict resolution is to bring the people who
believe that the answer to their political ambitions will be achieved
through violence into a different frame of mind. One in which they
accept that their political ambitions will be delivered by politics.
you need to do in conflict resolution is to affect a certain group of
people. That is, those people who believe that the answer to their
political ambitions will be achieved through violence. They need to be
brought into a frame of mind that they accept that their political
ambitions will be delivered by politics.
resolve conflict you need to affect some people. Those people who
believe violence will get them what they want. These need to be
their aims are best met by politics.
the Positive Rather Than The Negative
You can understand positive
statements more easily than negative ones because thepositive tells you what to do
or think, instead of telling you what not to do or think.
Negated statements leave what to do
a mystery. They are words with a negative prefix. For
Or they are clauses with a negative word, such as no or not. Even words in
positive form can express a negative idea. For instance, unless means if not,
so its meaning is negative. Positive expressions and ideas are much
easier to read because you need to make fewer steps to understand. To
read a negated expression, you must take two steps. First you need to
understand the positive. Then you must negate it to produce the
negative. Having to take an extra step, you are more likely to
misunderstand. Even if this causes you only a moments hesitation, the
flow of reading is broken.
While this uses familiar words:
It is not easy to
understand unclear writing.
It is harder to understand than positive words:
It is not easy to
understand dense writing.
Even better is to make the sentence positive, by removing the idea not dense, and replacing it with clear:
It is easy to understand
We can read this positive form straight through without hesitating
because we do not have to decode the negatives.
The degree of
misunderstanding of your writing is increased by your use of non-simple
Removing the nominalization, misunderstanding, we get:
Readers will misunderstand
your writing to the degree you use non-simple words.
And being positive:
Readers understand your
writing better when you use simple words.
This example comes from nominalizations.
The sentence has been cleaned up, but it is still hard to understand
because of the negative expressions.
avoid long sentences without considering
your readers, unless you write such sentences infrequently.
If we avoid long sentences, then we write shorter sentences. unless you write such sentences
infrequently, can be written in positive form as: you can write the occasional
long sentence. Putting this together, we have:
shorter sentences suited to your reader's ability and willingness to
understand. However, you can write the occasional long sentence.
The more words we need to read to understand a sentence, the harder it
is to grasp its meaning. This is especially true when the extra words
supply no extra meaning. The following table gives examples of wordy
ways of saying what we could have said just as clearly in fewer words.
as a consequence of
despite the fact that
for the purpose of
if this is not the case
if this is the case
in accordance with
in conjunction with
in order to
in the eventuality of
in the light of
in view of the fact that
on the assumption that
on the subject of
to the degree that
under any other circumstances than
with reference to
Some wordy expressions can simply be deleted.
the amount of
The amount of disagreement between the two groups is excessive.
The two groups disagree excessively.
the case of
In the case of Jack, we are undecided.
We are undecided about Jack
the characteristics of
They are studying the characteristics of the problem.
They are studying the problem.
the definition of
The definition of mind is that which is non-physical.
Mind is that which is non-physical.
the issue of
Dealing with the issue of corruption of proving problematical.
Dealing with corruption is proving problematical.
the level of
The level of polution in the county is very high.
Polution is the county is very high.
the nature of
The nature of the misuse of our products makes us concerned.
The misuse of our products makes us concerned.
the occurrence of
The occurrence of high levels of radiation in the food results from carelessness at the plant.
High levels of radiation in the food results from carelessness at the plant. Radiation in the food is due to carelessness at the plant.
the system of
The system of doctrine is
heresy. Students may notice in the course of discussion that the judicial branch appears
the least affected by the system of checks and balances.
The doctrine is heresy. Students may notice in the course of discussion that the judicial branch appears
the least affected bychecks and balances.
the use of
New regulations governing the use of child car seats came into force on 18 September 2006.
New regulations governing child car seats came into force on 18 September 2006.
Adjectives and Adverbs
A noun chain is a group of nouns such as:
paper bag disposal unit
dog kennel repair service
local community crime prevention resources
The last noun is the real one: the rest are nouns acting as adjectives.
is a special vocabulary used within a group to improve communication.
Plumbers, doctors, lawyers, and others, use special words which help
their activities. The words might be unfamiliar to outsiders, or
familiar words with a different meaning. When a jargon word fills a gap
in the language, it becomes a part of the language.
When jargon is used
outside the group, they indicate:
The writer is ignorant, and does not know the words are
The writer falsely believes she will impress others,
The writer wishes to deceive others by using familiar words
in an unfamiliar sense.
addition, some writers will use jargon to try to impress their
readers. This use of jargon is often vague and confusing.
word feedback comes from electronics where positive feedback results in
overload, and negative feedback controls and stabilizes the system.
In the example, it means comments.
group is invited to give their input.
example, the word input
have adequate supplies.
In these examples, a big jargon word is used
instead of a shorter familiar word.
your entitlement to work safely.
project is funded by the government.
to, aimed at
plan is geared to students.
example, geared to
is unclear, it could have either of the two meanings suggested.
work with, meet
need to interface with security.
interface is a
pompous way of saying work
with, or meet.
relationships with groups of people, building contacts
found a job through networking.
computing, is an impressive way of referring to contacts.
melting of control rods in a nuclear reactor, with
collapse, coming to an end;
serious failure of mental abilities;
In urban areas, family life is in meltdown.
Because its main use is very dramatic, it is used to
dramatize many other situations and states.
system is now operational.
a big jargon word for a simpler, clearer Anglo-Saxon one.
on the back of
are rising on the back of increased CO2 emissions.
expression is vague, so we do not know if the one causes the
other; both have a common cause; or they are just correlated.
probably caused by something other than chance.
new drug is significantly better than the previous one.
the examples, both these words with a familiar meaning are used in
their scientific sense, misleading the reader. If one drug is
significantly better, we would expect it to cure a lot more people, but
used in its scientific sense, significantly
better could mean only a small number might benefit. And,
in the smoking example, it seems obvious that smoking is addictive.
Drug companies have sometimes described drugs as non-addictive even
when such drugs are habit forming, or cause a compulsive need.
physical withdrawal symptoms, habit forming, causes a compulsive need.
is not addictive.
Foreign Words and Expressions
this purpose or occasion only, and without considering wider
were able to find only an ad
solution to the problem.
ad hoc seems to
fill a gap in English when it means something like special.
seeking bona fide
been given carte blanche
there circa 1985
likes to eat vegetables, eg
of examples beginning with
eg, does not
end in etc! [eg is written e.g. in the USA]
together or at the same time
crowd surged en bloc
speaking to Bill, et al, he
knew what he should do.
on, and the rest
filled his backpack with food,
water, clothes, etc.
committee, ie the Ethics
Committee, is set to meet later today.
when specifying one
example. Written i.e. in the USA.
want to find out, inter
why the flours had died.
modus operandi was to work all
night and sleep all day.
distributed two pounds of
flour per refugee.
rose 20% per capita during
is to be human per se.
pp (per pro)
with the permission and
authority of another
Roger Snout, Managing Director
everyone is mortal and Betty is
a person, she will die, QED.
written by the original author
[sic] here to please.
receive this pension sine
vis a vis
to face; regarding; opposite
wish to compare the health of
the English vis a vis the health of the French
used to give a specific
description or explanation of something previously mentioned in general
Expressions Used in Text
qv (quod vide)
see elsewhere in this text
see elsewhere in the text.
vs (vide supra)
see above, mentioned previously
The promotion of the thin
ideal might explain the exponential increase in eating disorders seen
in women born in the last half of the 20th century and in part also
contributes to the increase in obesity. (36 words)
With a reading ease of 34%, this is difficult to read. Most people
won't understand it. The word, exponential
means rapid increase. We can chop most of the words in "seen in women
born in the last half of the 20th Century", because this means women
under 60, which seems to be the majority of women! To break the
sentence in two, we can make the part beginning with "in part" a new
sentence. This part seems to mean that "there are more women who are
The promotion of the thin
ideal might explain the rapid
increase in eating disorders in
women. In part, it has also led to more obesity.
The reading ease is now 67%, making it accessible to a lot more
He said he would give a
further update on force levels later this month, but offered no
concrete time frame for when more troops could be withdrawn from a
conflict that is largely unpopular in Britain. (35 words)
We can easily split the sentence after the first comma:
He said he would give a
further update on force levels later this month. But offered no
concrete time frame for when more troops could be withdrawn from a
conflict that is largely unpopular in Britain.
This makes the sentences less than 25 words.
The word update
is computer jargon, meaning an up-to-date report. "force levels" is a
general way of referring to the expected number of troops. A time frame is
jargon, and means "a period of time with respect to a project". This is
not a concrete time,
but a definite one. The final clause is presumably
because whether the war is popular or unpopular, this is not related to
the report on troop withdrawals, so we can drop it. Putting this
together, we have:
He said he would
report on the expected number of troops later this month. But offered
no definite timetable for future withdrawals.
will be speaking to a number of people over the course of the day in a
bid to establish the woman's last known movements, when she was last
seen, and to establish the circumstances of her death. (38 words)
over the course of the
day means today. in
a bid to establish means to establish.
will be speaking to a number of people today to establish the
woman's last known movements, when she was last seen, and to establish
the circumstances of her death. (32 words)
The sentence is
still too long for general readers. We can change "be speaking" to
"speak"; "the circumstances of her death"
to "why she died". And we can delete "known", because if her movements
were known, there would be no reason to "establish them". And "and to
establish" can be deleted, as it is a repetition. This gives us:
will speak to a number of people today to establish the woman's last
movements, when she was last seen and why she died. (24 words)
The length is now within the range for general readers.
following sentence was intended for the general reader. About 20% of
the population can read it; that is, college graduates.
People with diabetes
should try to maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet that is low in
fat (particularly saturates) and salt
but contains plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five
portions a day) and starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, rice and
pasta (particularly whole-grain versions). (49 words/sentence. Grade
Level: 22.54; Reading Ease 20.7; syllables 1.61 )
First let us re-write it with shorter sentences (the words in italics
are candidates for change):
People with diabetes
should try to maintain
a healthy weight. They should eat a diet that is low in fat (particularly saturates)
and salt. It should contain plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least
five portions a day) and starchy carbohydrate
foods such as bread, rice and pasta (particularly
(17 words/sentence. Grade Level: 9.78; Reading Ease 55; syllables 1.59 )
The wordy, try to
maintain can be changed to have. The hard to
saturates, can be dropped. Because starchy foods
we can drop carbohydrates.
can be written as whole-grains
are good, using simpler words, and avoiding jargon. After
making these changes, we have:
with diabetes should have a healthy weight. They should eat a diet that
is low in fat and salt. It should contain plenty of fruit and
vegetables (at least five portions a day) and starchy foods
bread, rice and pasta (whole-grains are good). (15.3 words/sentence.
Grade Level: 5.78; Reading Ease 81; Syllables 1.34 )
The following requires a college education to understand:
some cases work persons sign away their entitlement to good working
conditions for more income in the faulty assumption that by risking
their health and safety for an unregulated employer will get them a
disproportionate amount of the gains made by ignoring safe systems of
work. (47 words/sentence. Grade Level: 21.6; Reading Ease 24; Syllables
Splitting the sentence, and marking with italics words intended for
In some cases work persons sign
away their entitlement
to good working conditions for more income. They do this in the faulty assumption
that by risking their health and safety for an unregulated employer
will get them a disproportionate
amount of the gains made by ignoring safe systems of work.
(47 words/sentence. Grade Level: 12.6; Reading Ease 49.5; Syllables
The sentence is still difficult to read.
We do things on
the assumption, not in
is a snooty way of referring to workers.
entitlements are their rights (fewer and shorter words).
assumption is a false belief
is irrelevant. Risking their health and safety is what is the issue. If
they do this, it does not matter for whom they do it.
amount of the gains means benefitting
much more from the higher pay (and time off). (More
Using the above points, we can cut the clutter and make the text easier
The re-write produces:
workers sign away their rights to good working conditions for more
income. They do this on the false belief that they will benefit more by
risking their health and safety in return for more pay.
(18 words/sentence. Grade Level: 7; Reading Ease 76; Syllables 1.33)
The new text can be read by a 13 year-old.
and making further changes, we have some text that anyone read easily:
might be tempted to sign away your right to a safe workplace. You might
do this because you believe the greater pay is worth more than the
(15 words/sentence. Grade Level: 4.4; Reading Ease 91; Syllables 1.2)
your workplace has a total of five or more persons working in that
enterprise including directors, the law states that the
company, enterprise or undertaking needs to have a formally
and published safety policy.
your workplace has five or more workers and directors, the law requires
it to have a safety policy. This must be well thought out, in
writing, and available to all.
Near the town of Baquba,
the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb
struck a minibus killing six people, including
four children and two women, and wounding five, police said. (33 words)
The word include means to
take in as part
of a whole. The reader expects a list of included things
to be a part,
and not a complete list. In the sentence, the four children and two women
are a complete list of the dead. We can therefore drop the confusing
For clarity, we might like to change wounding five to wounding five others.
Near the town of Baquba,
the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb
struck a minibus killing six people -- four children and two women --
and wounding five others,
criminal is focused on compromising legitimate web sites to launch
attacks on end-users, which underscores the importance of maintaining a
strong security posture no matter where you go and what you do on the
internet. (36 words; syllables per word: 1.78; Reading Ease: 19.9;
criminal misuses honest web sites to trick end-users to give up their
personal details. This deception stresses the need for strong security
no matter where you go and what you do on the internet. (17 words;
syllables per word: 1.62; Reading Ease: 52.73; Grade: 10.13)
study, commissioned by the Government last year after doubts were
raised over the reliability of low template DNA testing, made a series
of recommendations for improving the collection and interpretation of
samples. (Grade: 19.45, Reading Ease: 14.39, 33 words, syllables 1.88)
year, after doubts had been raised over the soundness of low template
DNA testing the government asked for a study. This study suggested new
ways to improve how samplesare collected and interpreted.
(Grade: 9.43, Reading Ease: 57.7, 17 words, syllables 1.56)
Human Rights groups such
as Amnesty International reported credible information suggesting a
programme of "co-ordinated retribution against known and suspected
opposition supporters". (Grade: 21.42, Reading Ease: 0, 22
words, syllables 2.41)
just one sausage or around three rashers of bacon a day can increase
the risk of developing bowel cancer by a fifth, an expert
warned. Just 1.8oz (50g) of processed meat daily increases the
chances of getting bowel cancer by around 20%.
Over their lifetime, a
person has a 1 in 20 chance of developing bowel cancer. If this risk is
increased by 20%, the risk will be 6 in a 100 compared with 5 in
100. Another way of saying this, is that people who eats one sauseage a
day will have a 1% increase in their chance of getting bowel cancer.
Indeed, one of the reasons why cultural variables have been
neglected in the past is that they are less obtrusive in the way they
channel behaviour and govern organizational performance than more
explicit, external factors such as organizational structure, control
and reward systems and high- level processes of decision- making. (50 words)
When pilot Philip Turner is accidentally transported by an anomaly and marooned on an unknown planet, he discovers the planet is threatened by a group of ruthless aliens similarly marooned. With the help of a group of young women with superpowers, and a powerful being called a god, he reluctantly uses his advanced knowledge and technology to help the planet's inhabitants, but will he succeed when outnumbered by aliens, opposed by greedy and squabbling kings, and limited by his gentle nature and moral beliefs? Paperback and Kindle: