Use Plain Language to Quickly Improve Your Message

How often have you read something like this? Does it make you want to visit the library?


The Anytown Public Library provides residents of any age opportunities to find and use information in many formats as they pursue personal growth and education throughout their lives. It helps them develop their ability to find and evaluate information used daily and all life long. It provides materials and programs relevant to contemporary issues and interests that enlighten, inform, and entertain.

One of my favorite tips comes from William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well, in which he says, “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”

The challenge is to actually think clearly and here are some basic tips.

Don’t Forget the Rules of Writing for the Public!

If people don’t understand what you’re saying what’s the point? There’s a campaign to change the way the government writes and even the I.R.S. site showed improvement when I checked recently!

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010 which requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”.

Can’t argue with that. It further explains that:

     Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others.

    Written material is in plain language if your audience can

     Find what they need;

     Understand what they find; and

     Use what they find to meet their needs.    (from

Tips to Improve Your Message With Plain Language

  1. Know your audience- if you are writing an academic paper, dissertation or an article for The Atlantic Monthly; your style will differ from a memo, website, or blog post.
  2. Use a conversational style and common, everyday words.
  3.  Imagine yourself speaking to one real person.
  4.  Write short sentences and use an easy-to-read format.
  5.  Avoid jargon prevalent in your industry such as: core competencies, scalable, or other corporate gibberish. Say what you mean.
  6.  Use an active voice. Your writing will be more interesting.

If you are an avid reader and word geek, you may find the ubiquitous presence of a plethora of complicated words invading your prose. (hint: don’t write like this).

Can We Improve the Library Mission Statement?

The Anytown Public Library has books, movies, music, computers and more for your education and entertainment.

You can learn a lot at the library, and we can help. 

Enjoy our programs for the whole family.

Make writing plainly part of your mission.  Your readers will thank you.

I have been working with my local Bastrop Public Library as they update their mission statement and evaluate how they can better meet the needs of the community.

The staff has chosen this great tagline, “Connect, Learn, Enjoy”, which incorporates all the products and services that they provide and is short, clear, and memorable. It meets the suggestion of Peter F. Drucker who stated in this essential book, “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt.”

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” David McCullough