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How to communicate in a more accessible way by using plain English alternatives

By
Daisy Bird
To communicate in an accessible way, you should try to be as clear as possible.

Many words and phrases we use every day have simpler words you can use instead. Swap these everyday words and phrases for plain English alternatives.

Using plain English makes your writing and communication easier to understand. It’s a more accessible and inclusive way of sharing information. Whether that’s in your writing or the way you speak in meetings, for example.

How plain English and simple language benefits all users

Complicated language excludes people. Using generic expressions, long words and acronyms can cause barriers for certain people.

In the UK, 1 in 6 adults has difficulties reading (National Literacy Trust). And 10% of the population have dyslexia.

Plain English means avoiding complex language and jargon. Clearer, more concise language is easier for your reader. Plain language is faster to read, too. The plainer your language is, the more likely that the reader will understand your message the first time they read it.

Writing in plain English is more inclusive of disabled people. It can help people:

  • with learning difficulties
  • with dyslexia
  • with autism
  • who are anxious
  • who  English is their second language
  • who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL)

Writing clearly in a way that avoids jargon also helps people:

  • who have poor working memory
  • are easily distracted
  • are slower at reading or processing information
  • have difficulty identifying the main points from a long passage of text
  • have a very literal understanding of language
  • are reading in a rush

It’s easy to slip into bad habits. Especially if your organisation uses complex language and jargon all the time.

How to improve your writing with plain English

Plain English alternatives

The Plain English campaign has an A to Z of alternatives you can use. We’ve included a list of some of the most common ones below.

These alternatives are typically shorter and easier to understand. But that’s not always the case. A word like ‘key’ is short. But for a word like henceforth, the alternative looks longer.

Avoid Use this alternative instead
“the norm” normal, standard
a large number of many
additional more, added, other
assist help
commence start, begin
counter to against
determine work out, decide
disclose show
enquire ask
ensure make sure
henceforth from now on, from today
implement start, put in place
in lieu of instead of
in order to to
in relation to about
indicate show
inform tell, say
is applicable to applies to
is in accordance with meets, follows, agrees with
key important, essential
locate find
maintain keep, support
modify change
navigate go
numerous  many
objective goal, aim
prior to before
such as like
sufficient enough
to date so far
utilise use
will be able to can
allocate divide, share, add, give

 Words and phrases to avoid

You’ll often find the following expressions in more formal styles of writing. Like reports and legal documents.

But they do not add any further meaning to your message. They just add extra words and noise.

You’ll find that your message will still make sense if you cut them from your vocabulary and writing.

  • due to the fact that
  • all things being equal
  • for all intents and purposes
  • in view of the fact that
  • in order to
  • it should be understood that
  • as far as I am concerned
  • in the process of
  • the fact of the matter is
  • take action to
  • along the lines of
  • pre-planning
  • future-planning
  • basically
  • actually

More resources for accessible communication

Hemingway App

A to Z alternative of words PDF (Plain English Campaign)

Government Digital Service Style Guide A to Z (GDS)

Hard words list (Our Voice Matters Project)

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