Appendix 2: A handy summary


The following points are a condensed version of all the information in the guide. You might like to use this as a quick reference.

Think of the person reading your information

Make it clear who you are writing to or about by using 'I', 'we' and 'you' where you can.

Have an average of 15 to 20 words in eac​h sentence

Keep sentences manageable. For variety, it is acceptable to mix longer, well-punctuated sentences with shorter, snappier ones.

Be direct and use the active voice most of the time

Try to put the person, group or thing doing the action at the start of the sentence as much as possible. For example, 'We will decide on your application soon' instead of 'A decision on your application will be made soon'.

Avoid unnecessary jargon

Aim to replace technical terms with their plainer alternatives. If you cannot do this, at least define the terms plainly.

Avoid using nouns made from verbs

Try to make actions concrete. For example, use 'consider' instead of 'consideration', 'establish' instead of 'establishment' and 'discuss' instead of 'discussion'.

Remove unnecessary words and phrases

Only use as many words as you need to get your message across clearly. For example, use 'before' instead of 'in advance of', 'because' instead of 'owing to the fact that' and 'if' instead of 'in the event that'.

Be consistent with terms

To avoid confusing your reader, use the same term for the same concept or thing throughout your document. For example, if you call something a standard, avoid later calling it a benchmark, a guideline or a norm.

Be specific with descriptions

Help your reader connect with something they know, rather than abstract ideas.

Define unfamiliar abbreviations and acronyms

As with technical terms, try to keep these to a minimum. If you suspect your reader might not be familiar with them, spell them out.

Avoid Latin and French expressions

Since people can confuse e.g., i.e. and etc., try to use the full, English equivalents 'for example', 'that is' and 'and so on' – or try rewriting your sentence. Similarly, use the English equivalent of phrases such as 'in lieu' and 'inter alia' to avoid confusion.

Check your work before you send it out

Make sure you edit your document carefully before sending it out. Sometimes it's a good idea to test it first, either with a colleague or one of your intended readers.

Use a clear, readable font

Use a clear font that will work well for your reader. Times Roman is a common serif font and Arial a common sans serif font. Aim for 12 point as standard size. Try not to have more than two distinct fonts in a document.

Break up dense text

Aim to use informative sub-headings, dot-point lists and question and answer formats to break up text and help your reader find their way through your document.

Emphasise text carefully

Only use bigger size font, bold or colour to emphasise text. Keep capital letters to a minimum to avoid SHOUTING AT YOUR READER! Avoid underlining and putting phrases in italics, as these types of formatting tend to make text harder to read.

Use left aligned text

Align your text to the left to avoid large gaps between words, which can happen when text is justified.

Use space to help your text stand out

Use 1.15 or 1.5 line spacing so the eye can move easily from one line to the next.

Use colour and images appropriately

If you use colour, make sure that it's easy on the eye and has a clear purpose. If using images, tables and charts, make sure they genuinely help explain the text. Avoid busy background images, which make text difficult to read.​

Think about the final product for your reader

For published documents, use good quality paper. For electronic documents, avoid using graphics and photographs with big blocks of colour and shading where possible. These use up a lot of computer space when downloading and storing, and a lot of ink when printing.