Write in Plain Language, Create Better Content

Write in Plain Language, Create Better Content

moleskine notebook on wood tableWith content libraries exploding, businesses are worried about how to translate all this content into their target languages more quickly and cheaply. There couldn’t be a better time to get the basics of content creation right.

Writing in plain language makes sure your message gets across to your target audience easily. Of course, what’s clear to one set of readers may not be clear to another, so it’s important to identify your target audience and write accordingly. For instance, if you’re writing marketing copy for your company, you’re better off using plain English. If you’re creating technical documentation for pilots, it may be okay to use aviation jargon. If you’re creating technical documentation for a general audience — like a user manual for a camera — the clearer you write, the better.

What Does it Mean to Write in Plain language?

  • Write shorter sentences. At a time when readers are scanning and not really reading, this rule is critical. Even if your reader isn’t reading online, you’d do well to always remember that the reader is not a very patient creature.
  • Use simple, everyday words. Don’t be tempted to impress. Instead, express. Use words that readers encounter in their daily lives. If you must use a big, complicated word, provide a definition in the text or link to one.
  • Use the active voice. Say who did what rather than what was being done by whom. It’s not only a more direct way of saying things, but it also uses fewer words than the passive voice.
  • Use “you” and other pronouns. Connect directly with your readers instead of referring to them in the third person. This goes for both marketing and technical content.
  • Organize the information logically. It’s not enough to write clearly. Make sure that that the reader doesn’t lose her way on your website or in your help documentation.

The above rules save the reader from “reverse engineering” your text to arrive at the meaning. By writing in plain language, you’re not just doing a service to the reader — you’re saving your company time and money, and even contributing to increased sales.

But the benefits of plain English don’t stop there. They have special relevance to the global expansion dreams of companies.

How, you ask? Using plain language helps to address the translation concerns of businesses and their language service providers (LSPs). Plain language helps reduce source content length — which means big savings in translation costs — and improves quality hugely. It goes without saying that when you translate fewer words written well, you also save time.

Ask any LSP or translator about what would help them deliver better translations, and source content quality will figure high on their list, which is not surprising. After all, clean source content in means clean translations out.

Plain language is not rocket science. Everyone can achieve success when writing this way, as long as their intention is to inform. The responsibility for translation quality (when looking to translate website content or other marketing materials) begins with global enterprises, not their vendors, and they need to own up by creating clean source content.

10 Mistakes You Might be Making with Translation Quality Infographic


About Vijayalaxmi Hegde

Vijayalaxmi is a member of the marketing team at Smartling. Prior to joining Smartling, she led the language services market sizing project at industry research firm, Common Sense Advisory. She is also a trained journalist and has written for publications in India (where she lives) as well as abroad. She is a plain language and tech enthusiast and speaks Kannada, English, Hindi, and Bengali – listed in the order she learned them.


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