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Plain Language Ninja

A few days ago a coworker asked me to look at a paragraph. He said it was on the top customer service priorities in our division.

So I scooted my chair over and looked at it. Then I looked at him and asked, “But what is it supposed to do?”

He said, “It’s supposed to convey, at a very high level, what we’re doing in the next year.”

I said, “Oh.”

My next words were, “Can I have your mouse?”

Because what I saw was a paragraph about 15 lines long. And the words “pilot study” were in the first sentence. I could guess where this was going.

He wanted to tell me about the pilot study; I didn’t want to hear about the pilot study.

I wanted the results.

So I took the mouse and went through my ninja routine, honed by about 20 years of plain language editing..

So my first step was to separate all the sentences so I could see them distinctly.

Then I deleted the pilot study sentences.

Then I moved the last two sentences to the top.

Then I connected two sentences, took out three prepositional phrases, and changed all “Divisions” to “We.”

I moved the screen over to my coworker. “How’s that?” I asked.

His eyes were bugged out in surprise. “How did you do that so quickly?” he said.

You too can be a plain language ninja.

Here’s what you do:

  • Organize for the reader reader-centered
  • Use design features such as headers, tables, and bullets
  • Shorten your sentences and paragraphs
  • Use “you,” “we,” and other pronouns
  • Use active voice, not passive
  • Focus on verbs, not nouns
  • Use consistent terms, not jargon or acronyms
  • Use common, everyday words


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