What is Clear
Why Bother with Clear Writing?
Are Some People Reluctant to use Clear Writing
How do you
How do you Present Material so People Want
to Read it?
What is Clear Writing?
Writing" is a way of presenting information so that it is easy for everyone
to read and understand. Clear Writing considers how the material looks, as well
as what it says. Clear Writing prevents misunderstanding between you and your
reader by avoiding jargon and technical terms.
Bother with Clear Writing?
Millions of people do not read well. The International
Adult Literacy and Skills Survey surveyed the literacy skills of adult Canadians
in 2003. The survey results show that material that is clear and easy to read
can be used by a wider audience. Changing the way we write can make it easier
for many more people to get information.
Clear Writing makes material
easier to understand for:
- people who do not read well
whose first language is not English
- people who do not see well
who are too busy to read a large amount of text to gain a small amount of information
Writing saves time because it avoids misunderstanding and errors. It gets the
job done the first time.
Why Are Some People Reluctant
to use Clear Writing?
Here are some commonly given reasons:
is not a problem for our audience.
Any material that is written for the
general public should be clear and easy to read, since as many as 41% of Canadian
adults have difficulty reading print materials. See sidebar on Canadian literacy
It will insult people who read well.
People who read well
can find information more quickly from materials that are clear, focused on the
main ideas and well designed.
What we have to say cannot be written simply.
We have to use technical language.
When material is written for the general
public, the writer must explain technical terms so that more people can understand.
I write simply, people will not respect my expertise.
Many people believe
that difficult language gives the writing more importance or makes it better.
Unfortunately, it only makes it harder to read.
- 4 in 10 adult Canadians do not have the literacy
skills they need to meet the ever-increasing demands of modern life.
14.6% of adult Canadians (3 million) do not have the skills to deal with the majority
of writing materials that they are faced with in everyday life.
- 27% of
adult Canadians (5.8 million) have the skills to carry out reading tasks when
the reading materials are simple and clearly laid out, but not the skills to cope
with unfamiliar or complex reading material.
Source: International Adult
Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS, 2003)
How Do You
Ask yourself these questions before you begin to write:
- Who is my audience?
- What are the needs and abilities of my audience?
What do I want to tell my reader?
Use the following guidelines on
language and organization to help you write clearly.
directly to your reader
|All staff employees are
asked to submit their reports by the end of the year.|
|Have your work reports in
by December 31.|
Don't change verbs into nouns
will be done twice a year.|
will immunize children each January and June.|
active voice - the subject does this action
coffee pot must be washed.|
must wash the coffee pot.|
Use a positive tone
not wearing a bathing cap will not be allowed in the pool.|
|You must wear a bathing cap
while in the pool.|
Avoid using jargon or acronyms.
new OMAFRA office has a boardroom that rural stakeholders can use.|
|The new office
of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)|
Explain difficult words in their context.
season, your sprayer should be calibrated.|
season, calibrate your sprayer by measuring the output of each nozzle to make
sure that each one is putting out the same amount of spray.|
headings that summarize the text.
on New Government Grants|
List instructions in order
- first step first, second step second, etc.
Write complete sentences only
when it makes sense to do so.
List critical points apart from the text.
The Annual Fall Clean-Up Day will be held on Saturday
October the 20th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Anyplace Township Dump.
Garbage must be brought in pick-up trucks or cars. No hazardous materials will
be accepted at this time. All garbage must be unloaded by hand.
your garbage with wood on top, then metal objects, then tires on the bottom. This
dump is open to Anyplace Township Residents only.
Dumping charges will be
$10 per vehicle.
ANNUAL FALL CLEAN-UP
ANYPLACE TOWNSHIP RESIDENTS ONLY
Date: Saturday, October 20, 20XX
Time: 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.
Place: Anyplace Township Dump
Cost: $10 per
Load your vehicle in the following order from bottom to top:
- Metal Objects
* No hazardous materials
will be accepted!
Avoid long, complicated sentences.
viable agricultural base strengthens the rural community and likewise, agriculture
benefits from close ties to community, business, education, social and recreation
A viable agricultural base strengthens the rural community. Agriculture benefits
from close ties to community, business, education, social and recreation facilities.|
Use parallel construction in lists - phrase each item using
the same grammatical form.
| The volunteer survey had
the following suggestions: planning meetings should be held in the spring. Do
all recruiting through the newspaper. We should conduct two fundraisers every
The volunteer survey had the following suggestions:
- Hold planning
meetings in the spring.
- Recruit through the newspaper.
fundraising events twice a year.
Do You Present Material so People Want to Read it?
refers to more than just the way you write. The next step is to design the material
so that your message stands out. You don't have to be a professional graphic designer.
Many of these techniques can be done using a basic word processor and a little
Type Size and Style
Use serif type for text.
type has "feet" on the ends of the letters that move the reader's eye
along the line, making it the best choice for paragraphs of text. Garamond is
an example of a serif font.
Use sans-serif type for short headings.
type is suitable for headings and signs. Franklin Gothic is an example of a sans-serif
not use all capital letters in body text.
Using all capital letters makes
text look too dense. People identify words and letters by shape.
bold type for emphasis.
Italics are difficult to read.
Use a legible size of type for body text.
Some fonts are hard to read at
small sizes than others. Choose a combination of point size and font that makes
your body text easy for everyone to read.
graphics that enhance text.
Graphics should help to break up the text,
however, do not over-use graphics and clutter up your page.
Use a simple
Do not try to add too many different fonts and styles over-design
your material. Simple is best! It is easier to read and more effective.
Left-justified text (with uneven right margins)
gives the reader's eye a rest at the end of each line and a point of reference
to begin reading the next line.
Justified text (text with
even left and right margins) can save room on the page and looks neater, but appears
dense and is difficult to read.
Bullets and Boxes
such as bullets () and boxes can be used to organize text and draw attention
to certain areas. Be careful to be consistent in how you use these or else they
can be more confusing than helpful to your reader.
much text gives a dense appearance and sends two messages to the reader: "This
is going to be hard to understand. This is going to be boring." Columns and
wide page margins make your text easier to read.