What are you trying to say?

Working as a learning designer, I get to see a range of writing. Some of it great! Others, not so much.

One of the big issues I see is complex sentences and uncommon word choice. This is particularly common from writers who are academics, or from those who want to appear knowledgeable.

I’m convinced that the first assignment I ever failed was because I didn’t understand the lecturer or the readings in the course. The readings, and lecturer, were verbose and full of academic language. While capable, I have never been a big reader and this was just too much for me.

There’s very little reason to write in a complex way. There is a push from many governments to have documents written in plain language so that it is easy to understand. Policies, procedures, legislation, terms and conditions, reports, emails, blog posts, learning materials. These can all be written in plain language.

There may be times where a different style is required. The only one I can think of is in academia. However, I wonder if this is more an expectation based on tradition rather than a necessary way to show competence.

Learning materials must be clear and understood by the learner. So plain language is a must! So how do I start?

  • Cut out words and keep sentences short. Plain language often means fewer words. Have a look at this example from Plain English Campaign.


High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.


Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

  • Use active voice to keep your writing sounding sharp.
  • Use lists. It’s easier to read a bulleted list than a lot of ideas in a paragraph.
  • Write for your audience.

I’d also suggest you look at punctuation. Try to remove brackets. Split long sentences into multiple sentences. And stay away from the semi-colon!

I’m working on writing using plain language. It’s a struggle after spending many years writing assignments and a thesis. I tend to slip back into those habits very quickly. Even writing this blog post I see I’m lacking at times. I wonder if I could get away with writing a PhD in plain language?

Have you good or poor examples of writing you can share in the comments? Or maybe some tips. I’d love to see them!


Nathaniel Written by:

Nathaniel is passionate about people reaching their full potential. He has expertise and experience in education, e-learning, face-to-face and online facilitation, virtual mentoring, training, leadership and school governance.