Rules for writing plain English


Here are some wonderful writing tips from the book How You Can Write Plain Language by Just Following These 39 Steps – by William D. Lutz, author of Doublespeak Defined and The New Doublespeak


The Writing Process

1. Know your reader, and write with your reader’s viewpoint in mind.
2. Organize your text: in a logical sequence, with informative headings, and with a table of contents for long documents
3. Use short sentences
4. Say only what you have to say, avoiding too many messages in a single sentence, and omitting surplus words.
5. Keep equivalent items parallel.
6. Avoid unnecessary formality.
7. Give an overview of the main idea of the text.
8. List conditions separately.
9. Arrange your words with care.
10. Punctuate carefully.
11. Use an average of 25 words per sentence.
12. Put most of your messages at the subject-predicate position.
13. For variety or emphasis, invert your sentences.
14. Use the art of subordination to smooth out choppiness.
15. Avoid disrupting your sentences with thought-stopping gaps.
16. Tabulate particularly complex information.
17. Get rid of compound prepositions.
18. Rewrite the adjective, adverb, and noun clauses to other structures satisfying the same functions.
19. Use phrases to smooth out the choppy noun-noun modifier.
20. Be fair and nonsexist, but don’t be stupid.


21. Prefer the active voice.
22. Use simple, “everyday” words.
23. Use words consistently.
24. Use familiar, concrete words.
25. Avoid multiple negatives.
26. Avoid nouns created from verbs.
27. Use action verbs; avoid the verb “to be.”
28. Use personal pronouns.
29. Avoid noun strings.
30. Avoid deleting words such as “which is,” “who was,” “that are,” etc. – that link a subordinate clause.
31. Avoid language quirks.

Presentation of Material

32. Make the document attractive and designed for easy reading.
33. Use white space in margins and between sections.
34. Use ragged right margins.
35. Do not use all caps.
36. Use highlighting techniques, but don’t overuse them.
37. Use 8 to 10 point type for text.
38. Avoid lines of type that are too long or too short.
39. Avoid strings of symbols.

2 thoughts on “Rules for writing plain English

  1. Pingback: A Blog for Wordsmiths | By George Journal

  2. Pingback: Tagged “writing” | By George Journal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *