Plain language or Easy English?

The style that works for your audience – Caroline Livanos

You before me

If you’re wondering whether to write a document in plain language or Easy English, this mantra says it all.

It’s about understanding your audience and their needs.

Plain language

If you’re trying to reach people with reasonable literacy skills who are likely to understand your topic and find their way around a website or printed document, choose a  plain language writing style.

In fact, most of us would prefer to read plain language documents because they get straight to the point. We are time poor and plain language helps us find information and make decisions quickly.

But don’t be fooled – it’s not as easy as it looks.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Why is my audience reading this?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What do they need to do?

Read your document again. How many times have you used ‘we’ versus ‘you’? Does your reader have to venture past your vision and mission statements before they find out how to book your service? Time to slash that unnecessary content!

Top five plain language tips:

  1.   Structure your document logically with the most important information up front.
  2.    Use basic language and grammar.
  3.    Use less words, sentences and paragraphs.
  4.    Use everyday, conversational language.
  5.    Use subheadings, bullets lists and white space to break up the text.

Easy English

 If, on the other hand, you’re looking to reach people with low English literacy, people with disability, people with English as a second language or older people, choose an Easy English writing style.

Did you know that, according to a 2013 ABS study, 44% of Australian adults have difficulty reading and writing? The study also found that people with low English literacy did not feel confident using computers.

If that’s the case – and remember it’s all about understanding your audience – creating Easy English documents to communicate your message makes perfect sense.

Easy English is a more technical writing style. It’s based on years of consumer feedback and clinical practice.

It’s similar to plain language in that it’s concise and easy to understand, but it also follows specific grammatical rules and includes images to support key messages. Ideally, a support person assists the reader to read, understand and make decisions about the information.

Top five Easy English tips:

  1. Explain one idea per sentence.
  2. Use basic language and grammar.
  3. Use subheadings, bullet points and white space to break up text.
  4. Use a simple font, layout and design.
  5. Select images that are easily understood and add meaning to the text.
NDIS easy english document
Above: An example of an NDIS Easy English document with customised images

Now you have it: put yourself in the shoes of your reader and your writing style will hit the mark.

If you would like more information on plain language or Easy English, or if you have a document that you would like translated, contact Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre on 1300 472 673 or