Writing for your website - mastering plain English

If you can’t express information in a clear and easy-to understand way, your users won’t hang around. Tell them what they want to know, be clear and to the point.

15 June 2023     6 min read
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Your users are not reading your content. The truth of writing for the web is people scan. They don’t want an essay, they what to find:
Stop writing as an advertiser. Flashy jargon and complicated sentences may win over some people, but it is unlikely this will have an impact on the majority of your audience. If you can’t express information in a clear and easy-to-understand way, your users won’t hang around. Tell them what they want to know, be clear and to the point. How can you do that? The first step to writing in plain English, is understanding how people read websites.

How people read websites and why

Writing on a screen is not as clear as ink in a book. It may sound silly, but this has a big impact on how we read on screens. We have less patience when trying to get to content online. Structuring your content can help to keep your user’s attention.Here are some tips to help you structure your content better:
Remember, if someone lands on a page from a search engine, they may not have any context.

Understanding plain English

Plain English is communicating in a way that everyone can understand, having a desired impact, using the appropriate tone and directing it to your audience.

Identifying your target audience is a key step to writing better content. Conduct research to understand who your audience is and what their needs are. For different audiences, it is appropriate to use different tone of voice. But, it’s important to set one tone and stick to it. If a user senses a shift in tone, it can be off putting.

Before you begin to write, plan your content by answering the following questions:
Try putting yourself into your readers shoes. Explain your message clearly to them. Avoid long, complex sentences with little punctuation. A complicated message can be clearly conveyed to an audience using non-technical words and short meaningful sections. Sentences should rarely exceed 20 words. This will help to keep a natural flow. If your content is too complicated to explain in short sentences, consider using diagrams and illustrations to assist your text.

Passive and active

Passive verbs make your writing cold, formal and difficult to understand. Active verbs give your writing more life and direction. How can you identify passive verbs and avoid them? Passive verbs nearly always have 2 parts:
Passives can be used in some instances, but as a general rule, they are best to avoid.

Basic guidelines for plain English


Get writing

Writing in plain English can be difficult, I don’t claim to be a master. However, the more you review and update your written content on the web, the more efficient you will become at writing.When starting out, it is better to do something than nothing at all.

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