Writing in a notebook

How (and why) to write using clear language

Using clear language and design allows you to share information in a simple, straightforward way.

Clear writing, also known as plain language, allows your message to reach the widest audience. It’s helpful for people working to improve their literacy skills.

Clear design makes it easier to see your message. In a cluttered and busy design your message might get lost.

Here’s why you should use clear language and design in your literacy organization.

Why clear communication matters

Clear communication makes your organization more inclusive. Newcomers learning English as a Second Language (ESL) and people working to improve their literacy skills need clear and straightforward written materials.

Complicated writing can stop people from participating. They may not understand the information they need to join in. Clear language can make people feel welcome. It also makes it easier for people to get engaged.

Complex writing can discourage people from getting the help they need. Clear language and simple design allow more people to find and use the resources.

Clear language and design focus on the reader, not the writer. Think about what learners need and how they read. Make sure your information is readable and understandable to as many learners as possible.

How to incorporate clear language into your writing

Here are things to consider when writing in clear language:

1. Word choice

Use simple words.

Short, everyday words are easier to recognize than longer, less common words. Being precise can be a priority in some instances. But it’s usually more important to use words that people know.

Use words that the largest possible audience will understand. However, if you’re writing for a specific audience, you should use the terms that the group knows, even if those terms won’t make sense to others. You want to consider the needs of the audience you’re interested in reaching. Also, spell out acronyms, especially the first time they appear.

It’s good to repeat words. Always using the same word for the same idea helps people with a smaller and emerging vocabulary.

2. Writing structure

Shorter sentences and paragraphs ensure that readers aren’t overwhelmed by information.

Keeping sentences and paragraphs short is crucial to sharing information in an easy-to-understand way. Being repetitive with vocabulary isn’t an obstacle to clear communication, but sharing non-essential information is. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Take out information your readers don’t need.

Separate information into sections to give readers an overall picture of the material. You can increase reading comprehension by providing content in a logical order. Connecting themes from one paragraph to the next offers a natural flow and helps to keep information organized.

3. Tone

Use strong verbs in the active voice to help create a straightforward message. Unclear language can cause confusion.

Keeping a friendly, helpful tone encourages the learner to stay engaged with the material. A stiff, formal tone can make writing harder to read.

4. Content

Provide crucial information. Helpful facts, instructions and policies are all useful information. Useful information keeps readers focused on the purpose of the material. While some details may be interesting, including them can sometimes confuse the key message.

5. Formatting

Headings and subheadings keep information organized.

Naming and emphasizing subjects and categorizing elements of written material provides an overview of the overall message. It also helps guide learners to the parts of the written material most important to them.

6. Design

Font styles work best when they are simple and easy to read.

Many ESL learners and learners with low literacy are not just learning a new language but a whole new alphabet. Use a clear and consistent font to make recognizing letters easier.

Use font elements such as bold, different font size on headings, subheadings, and other parts of writing that need emphasis. Keep your design clean. Only use emphasis or extra colours when you need them. Only use capital letters at the start of a sentence or in an initialization.

Use photos or graphics that help to explain the text.


Well-written and well-designed communication improves the experience of both learners and practitioners. When you use effective communication and learning materials, you won’t need extra time and resources to explain original messages.

Writing using clear language is especially helpful for people who are developing their literacy skills. It provides information to those who need it and makes it easier for practitioners to deliver content. It improves the learning experiences and lives of those who require various supports.

For more literacy resources or to learn about our free literacy programs, visit our programs and initiatives page.