Designing Inclusive Images and Words

Writing in Plain Language (Part One)

Image: Pile of newspapers.


In this section, we will learn about plain language and how it can be used to make media more accessible and inclusive. Using plain language does not mean using language that is overly simple or language that takes on a condescending tone; on the contrary, using straightforward words and simple sentence structures helps make sure that your audience will understand your message (Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015).

Developing An Understanding

Plain language, also known as plain writing or plain English, is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. When you use plain language, first think about who your audience is, what they need to know, and what they will be using your words for. (Plain Language, n.d.)

Plain language focusses on the reader, uses a personal tone, addresses people directly, and gives examples in order to clearly explain your point (Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015).

For example, read the sentence below:

It is possible and imperative that accessible documents be created in order to be inclusive to all users.

In plain language, this sentence could be written differently:

You can create accessible documents so that they are inclusive for everyone.

Plain language:
  • Uses familiar words and simple sentences
  • Presents the most important information first
  • Places main ideas first and smaller details later on
Plain language avoids:
  • Jargon - this is specialized language that only specific people can understand, usually based on their profession (lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. will have their own vocabularies that people who do not work in those professions will not know)
  • Idioms and Expressions - these are sayings that some people may not understand, especially if English is not their first language. For example: if you have “a bee in your bonnet”, it means you have something on your mind and you can’t stop thinking about it.
  • Acronyms and Abbreviations - these are shortened forms of words, either by making a new word out of the first letters in a phrase (BAF for Broadcasting Accessibility Fund or CBC for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) or by using only the first part of a word (approx. for approximately or ex. for example)
When using plain language, you:
  • Present information clearly and concisely
  • Increase the chances that users will find, read and understand what you are saying
  • Make your information more accessible to people with disabilities
  • Save resources when people are editing or translating your text

— Adapted from the Content Style Guideopen new window