Writing in plain English

The UK Statistics Authority standards state plain English should be used:

Include an impartial narrative in plain English that draws out the main messages from the statistics.

Avoid language that needs to be “translated” by journalists or commentators into simpler English.

Plain English is clear language, with no jargon, that is understood by all readers. This is not “dumbing down” information, but opening up statistics and statistical commentary to everyone. Users do not stop understanding text because it is written clearly, but they stop understanding when it is complex. In fact, many expert users prefer simpler language as it helps them get the information they need quickly.

Do not use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. You can generally avoid this by breaking down what you are actually doing. Where technical terms cannot be avoided, they should be explained in the text, not just in a footnote.

Find out more about words to watch and words not to use.

To write in plain English, think about the following:

Who is your audience?

Unless you know otherwise, think of your audience as people who take an interest in your subject but have no detailed knowledge. Use your writing to guide readers through the subject and help them identify what is most important.

What are you going to say?

Think about what your readers want to know. You do not need to tell them everything. Use your opening paragraphs to:

  • summarise succinctly what you are writing about
  • tell readers what information they will find
  • put your research into context

Hemingway Editor is a useful online tool to see if your writing is clear and concise. Simply paste your text into the tool. It will report on its complexity, give it a readability grade and make suggestions for improvements.

Do not paste sensitive information or unpublished data into Hemingway – it is a security risk. Use the Flesch-Kincaid reading level tool in Microsoft instead.

You could use Hemingway retrospectively to look at your last bulletin or article and see how you could improve your writing in the future.

Hemingway Editor will not allow you to paste into it if opened in some browsers. We advise using Google Chrome.