Clear language combines strategies from plain language and simple language that research shows improves the experience of individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities. Clear language helps create more accessible content. It helps people understand what is important and what to do with the information they read. This includes guidance on word choice, language structure, instructions, and use of numbers and symbols.
Writing and editing in plain language means using:
- Common words
- Concrete and literal words and phrases
- Consistent, clear and simple language structure.
- Language that clearly illustrates the main point and take-aways.
- Clear, short, step-by-step instructions
- Explanations of icons, numbers, and acronyms
- Multiple ways to present complex information (images, sound and text)
- Clear language benefits individuals who live with cognitive and learning disabilities, language impairments, memory impairments, and autism.
- People with language impairments often have a reduced vocabulary and learning new terms is a very slow difficult process. For other groups, such as people living with dementia, learning new terms is not realistic or possible. Using uncommon words, that they do not already know, will make the content understandable and unusable.
- Simple tense, concrete language, and active voice makes it clear what needs to be done for individuals who struggle to parse complex sentence structure or interpret implicit information.
- Language is more clear when it’s easier to understand. Readers can follow instructions and remember what’s important. When information is not clear, many people may feel more tired, confused, anxious or distracted.
- Some may read more slowly, re-read many times to process and remember information, or they may not understand the information at all.
- Clear language improves everyone's reading success and allows for a broader audience.
Who it helps
There are many types of disabilities that can make it harder to read, including a large range of cognitive and learning disabilities, mental health conditions, aging-related conditions, and cognitive impacts of some chronic or other health conditions.
Not all individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities have the same needs. Difficulties with reading vary by disability but also by individual. It’s important not to make assumptions. Many people with disabilities can understand specialized or complex information, but they may benefit from the same principles of clear language.
Clear language generally helps everyone, especially people who may have difficulty reading due to disability. Reading may also be more difficult when tired, distracted, under stress, with low-literacy, when working outside one’s first language (such as with some sign language users), or when vision is impaired.
Difficulties with reading may be related to challenges with:
- Learning, decoding, using or remembering words
- Understanding words and phrases that are abstract or ambiguous
- Following complex sentence or story structure
- Reading and processing speed
- Determining main point from detail
- Understanding instructions and what to do with them
- Remembering what was read
- Using new and unfamiliar symbols and/or acronyms
- Understanding math and numbers
- Write clearly and edit your content.
- Follow principles for plain language.
- Use a professional editor when possible.
- Refer to the Write tab for more instructions.
- Specialized or complex information - although even where information requires a specialized vocabulary or complex explanation, everyone benefits from some of the same techniques for clear words.
- Where documents are complex or specialized, provide clear language summaries (see summary guidance).
- Copyrighted, artistic or other text material with restrictions that prevent modifications.
- Artistic or humorous works can use figurative langage, metaphors, sarcasm, or irony, but if possible, they should give a literal explanation.
To Be Done (TBD)
Because language is used in many ways for many different purposes,we do not recommend prescriptive testing. Needs vary between languages. The best way to test this guideline is with an editor who is trained in plain language techniques within the language being used.
- Ensure that the recommendations for clear language in the Write tab are implemented in a way that increases comprehension.
- Clear language is not just a rote implementation of rules. The results of clear language should improve comprehension for everyone, particularly people with cognitive and learning disabilities. The rules should guide without being prescriptive. As a result, clear language benefits from user testing but it is not required.
Use a grammar checker and spell checker. Manually confirm that the error corrections and suggestions make sense.
Manual Testing Tips:
See the Test tab within the Method for Edit Text for Clear Language
Testing with Users:
- Clearly state that the content is being tested not the users
- Ensure that content selected for testing does not raise users’ anxiety
- Test with users who have different cognitive and learning disabilities as their experience will be different.