Do you think plain language means dumbing down what you want to say? The opposite is true. It’s easier to write convoluted than concise text.
Plain language is more than substituting difficult words with easier ones; it involves sentence structure, logic and consideration for your reader. Why use plain language? In multicultural South Africa it’s vital to communicate for understanding.
Use active, not passive, voice
In active sentences (active voice) someone does something; in passive sentences (passive voice) something is being done to someone. See the difference:
|Passive voice – weak||Active voice – vibrant|
|Young people are trained by the Moses Kotane municipality in Mpumalanga to build houses.||The Moses Kotane municipality in Mpumalanga trains young people to build houses.|
Use verbs rather than noun forms
|Noun form (nominalisation) – weak and clumsy||Verb – vibrant|
|plan for the completion of …||complete, plan to complete …|
|announced the introduction of …||introduced …|
|brought about the improvement of …||improved …|
|undertook the arrangement of …||arranged|
|focus on an investigation of …||investigate|
Replace clumsy phrases with vibrant words
|Clumsy phrase||Vibrant solution|
|a large number of||many|
|as a result of||because|
|at an early date||soon|
|at the end of the day||finally, in the end|
|at this moment in time||now, right now|
|because of the fact that||because, since|
|despite the fact that||although, even though|
|due to the fact that||because|
|in excess of||more than|
|in proximity to||near|
|in spite of the fact that||despite, although|
|in view of the fact that||because, as|
|owing to the fact that||because, since|
|until such time as||until|
|you are requested||please|
Do not say the same thing twice
Pleonasm means using superfluous words, as in “the tiny little child”. Tautology means repeating a meaning that has already been conveyed.
|Pleonasm, tautology||Use either one or the other|
|can be able to||can OR be able to|
|for example …, etc.||for example … OR …, …, … etc.|
|10am in the morning||10:00 OR 10am OR 10 o’clock in the morning|
|comprise of||comprise OR consist of|
Divide long, convoluted sentences into two or more sentences
|To involve the youth in housing programmes, there is a youth internship programme targeting students heading for construction-related qualifications, offering bursaries to seven of them in 2015.||A youth internship programme gives young people the chance to become involved in housing. This programme targets construction students. Seven students received bursaries in 2015.|
The secret of vibrant writing is to revise and edit what you’ve written. Use this post as a checklist; then eliminate these sins. Your readers will thank you for it. Even better, they’ll understand what you’re trying to say.
Having worked in the South African publishing industry for decades, she has edited, proofread, translated and indexed a wide range of publications, from academic and educational texts to business and general non-fiction books. Her expert skills at editing – and often rewriting – manuscripts for publication prompted an international publisher to commission her first textbook, on tourism. Since then she has written textbooks on marketing and life skills. In addition to Love Being You, she has six books in print with combined sales of over 150 000 to date.