Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Topic: Plain English

10-second review: Suggestions for how to write plainly. These suggestions were part of an article on writing for the disadvantaged. The suggestions come from James Olsen, an editor for McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Title: “Teaching Reading and Literature to the Disadvantaged.” S. Bachner. Journal of Reading (October 1974), 50-55.


Keep sentences short, not more than 10-15 words. Avoid qualifications.

Use simple sentence structure: subject, verb, object.

Use present tense verbs.

Avoid to be, was, has, make. Use strong verbs.

Use definite and indefinite articles sparingly. Don’t open sentences with a, or the.

Avoid colons, semicolons and dashes.

Avoid linking words like because and if.

Use the “you” approach.

One idea per paragraph.

Be conversational.

Use similes that the reader knows.

Avoid large numbers and arithmetical symbols. Instead of 25%, say “one in four.”

Keep pronouns and antecedents as close together as possible.

Comment: Worth considering when writing anything that might be complicated for a general audience. Write your message as you normally would, then go back and simplify. RayS.

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