This guide to plain English is for anyone who needs to communicate information to others and wants to do that as clearly as possible. It has been produced by 26TEN, a network of people and organisations working together to improve adult literacy and numeracy rates in Tasmania.
Writing and reading are a big part of how we communicate with each other. Many of us regularly send and receive important information through:
- job applications
- file notes for colleagues.
Plain English is a style of communication that studies have shown makes information easier to understand.
The guide brings together a set of plain English tips. The main section covers how to write and present information clearly. Towards the end is an index, a handy summary, examples of clearer words and phrases to use, checklists to help review documents and forms, and a list of extra resources.
While the guide is based on English grammar, you don't need to be an expert in grammar to be able to use it and write and speak in plain English.
What is 26TEN?
The name 26TEN comes from the 26 letters of the alphabet and the ten digits we use for counting. It is Tasmania's way of talking about literacy (being able to read and write) and numeracy (being able to count and calculate numbers).
26TEN is a network of organisations and individuals working together to improve adult literacy and numeracy in Tasmania. Better literacy and numeracy means a better Tasmania for all.
26TEN's vision is for all Tasmanians to have the literacy and numeracy skills they need for work and life. Our goals are that:
- everyone knows about adult literacy and numeracy
- everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others
Literacy and numeracy in Tasmania
One in every two Tasmanian adults has difficulties with the literacy and numeracy tasks that are part of everyday life – things like filling in forms, reading bills and bank statements, understanding safety signs at work, adding up at the supermarket, and reading instructions on everything from machinery to medications.
Not all adults with literacy and numeracy difficulties are the same. Some may be better at numbers than spelling and some may be better at reading than writing. Some can read short pieces of writing, but find it hard to understand longer or detailed documents. Literacy and numeracy skills are like muscles. We need to use and update them regularly or they weaken.
The literacy and numeracy skills expected by society are changing all the time. Some of us may have left school confident about our skills, but changes in our workplaces and everyday life since then place new pressures on them.
Writing and presenting information clearly
Being able to understand and act on a document the first time you read it is something we can all appreciate, no matter what our level of literacy. Just as important is spoken communication. Information that isn't presented clearly creates confusion. This can lead to missed opportunities, or mistakes and complaints that take time to sort out.
The 26TEN network wants to see plain English become the communication style of choice throughout Tasmania. We encourage you to become familiar with the guide, use it often and share it with others.
For various studies, see these online resources,
www.wordcentre.co.uk/page57.htm. Also see this book
Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please by Joseph Kimble, Carolina Academic Press, 2012.
If you would like to understand grammar better, there are good guides and courses available. See the extra resources in Appendix 5 or contact 26TEN for other suggestions.
Adult Literacy in Tasmania, 2006, Australian Bureau of Statistics, published in 2008.