Why simpler language means a bigger audience

February 20, 2023
Typewriter with a page on it. The text reads 'words have power'.

The Social Deck supports diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. We want everyone to have equal access to information we produce. Anyone should be able to access and understand our information easily.

What is plain language?

Plain language (or plain English) helps our audience understand different types of written content the first time they read it.

It is clear, organised and gets to the point so a reader understands the information quickly and easily.

It is shorter sentences that give meaning without you needing to take 3 breaths before you finish reading it aloud.

It is different to an Easy Read translation.

It is NOT a ‘dumbed down’ version of communication.

Why should we use it?

We want as many people as possible to read and understand the content we write.

We often write about all sorts of government policy information. When we do that we must cater for all levels of literacy. If we don’t, we miss input from a large chunk of the population.

According to the Australian Government Style Manual:

  • around 44% of the adult Australian population have a reading level (known as ‘readability’) below Year 10.
  • 14% have a reading level below Grade 6 (primary school standard)
  • only 15% of Australian adults can read above secondary school standard (above Year 12).

Low literacy makes it hard to access information and services. Policies and laws written with complex language are hard for people with low literacy to understand. It also puts them at risk of poor outcomes.

How do I measure plain English?

There are lots of different applications and online tools you can use to help you find the readability level of your content. There are free ones like Grammarly, Hemingway App or ProWritingAid. But you’ll find plenty of others to suit your needs. Most software will give you a readability score without using any other tool. Microsoft have this advice to check readability. Have a look at your software’s website for similar help.

What about people who have high literacy?

It’s important to remember it isn’t just those who have low literacy that appreciate communication that is clear and in plain language. The Australian Government Style Manual says:

‘Regardless of literacy levels, all users want to be able to interact with government easily. Respect their time by writing in plain language.’

‘Users with higher education also prefer content that’s easy to read. People with the highest literacy levels tend to be time-poor and have the most to read.’

Our consultations and engagement activities involve a wide range of people. In the same project, we might write content for experts with high literacy levels through to those without much knowledge of an issue or with lower literacy. It’s important that the information is the same for everyone.

Where to from here?

If you don’t already write in plain language, I hope this little bit of information will inspire you to give it a go. It’s a simple way of making your content inclusive and accessible to a much wider audience. But you don’t have to take my word for it. A simple Google search will give you lots of information, tips and tricks.

How can we help?
Vikki McIntyre
Editorial and First Nations Engagement Manager