Too often content comes at the bottom of the communication or website planning list. In fact, over half of website launches are delayed due to content issues coming up at the end of the process, instead of at the beginning. And, a lot of time is wasted re-writing print content, because defining the 'who' and asking for audience input was left out or left too late. At the Literacy and Learning Symposium 2012, Terri Peters and I presented "The Power of Plain Language – telling the story straight". She dealt with the print side, and, I looked at plain language website tips. Here are some key points we shared.
Always start with the 5 Ws: who, why, what, where, when. Spend time carefully, and deeply analyzing your audience (who) and purpose (why). All content decisions should be made based on these two key points.
Website audiences can be categorized as user who are skimmers - on a mission to find something, fast. Website users scan in an F pattern, seeking headings, subheadings and links. Readers scan also. Are you giving your readers and visitors what they want? The best way is to ask and involve them. See the links below for some tips.
Plain language is all about accessibility. Print design is about being reader-friendly. And websites are all about usability. Putting print and web design together with plain language can deliver powerful results.
Today's audiences are media savvy. They want visual and audio options, as well as text. Give them video, podcasts, galleries. Satisfy their hunger. But, don't over do it. The easyread.drugabuse.gov site is a great example of the blending of written and visual elements. And, in print - use simple and realistic graphics, supported by a readable font, and a design that uses lots of white space.
With the help of an experienced assessor, carry out usability testing before you go live or go to print. You'll be glad you did.
Put your readers first; put content at the beginning the communications plan; and follow plain language guidelines from start to finish. The results will be satisfying – for you and your users.
Here are more helpful links:
Power of Plain Language Bibliography
Usability testing sites:
read-able.com (web content)
Sample plain language websites:
If this looks like the kind of presentation you'd like for your organization, please contact me, Kate Harrison Whiteside at
email@example.com or Terri Peters, TLP Training at, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Your Calendars for Plain Language Association International's PLAIN2013 Conference in Vancouver - Oct 10-13, 2013. Celebrate with us...Keep searching for PLAIN2013. The website is coming soon.
In the last week I have had the brilliant opportunity to participate in two community awareness and fundraising events. One was local to BC, the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) and Black Press Reach-A-Reader Day literacy campaign. The other was International Plain Language Day Oct 13, iplday.org, a virtual, global celebration. They may seem worlds apart - but really they are very close in many ways - and we can all learn from them.
CBAL's local literacy awareness and fundraising campaign involved partnerships, promotions, and people - volunteering time to shout about it on street corners in their towns. They raised funds that stay in their communities - by taking donations and handing out local newspapers. It was energizing to see the support live. And, the results will be felt in these communities as the funds stay with them to support local programs.
International Plain Language Day, Oct 13 celebrations involved the global community - Canada, US, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, and more - supporting this cause with local meetings; a virtual conference using YouTube, SlideShare, their website; and, social media - LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Donated presentations made up the content, volunteers promoted it, and hundreds watched, listened, posted and tweeted about plain language. It was motivating to be part of it. And, the results wil be felt far and wide, as the plain language global community opens its doors and invites everyone in.
These two events may seem totally unrelated - but they both had common themes: increasing people's access to and understanding of - education opportunities; health and legal information and services; workplace training and learning opportunities; community support and participation. They were both led by passionate professionals and supported by committed volunteers - and followed on an idea someone felt was important. There is a lot of powerful energy that comes from these types of events. Harness it, learn from it, and put it to work in your community.
Kate Harrison Whiteside has over 25 years experience in plain language, writing/editing, training and consulting.