Besparc’s Plain Language Principles

Plain Language Principles

“Plain language” means writing that reduces jargon, or specialized words, in favor of more common words with the same meanings. Where jargon must be used, we define it and adopt a nickname where appropriate. We write in American English and have based the principles in this section on the Federal Plain Language Guidelines, citation below.

The writing rule of threes holds that ideas given in threes are more interesting and memorable than ideas presented in other numbers. We apply the rule of threes to:

Our writing limitation of threes holds that more than three of some writing tools tend to increase confusion and decrease readability. We apply the limitation of threes to:

Based on the needs of any specific project, we adapt our approach to the rule and limitation.

We choose words and craft sentences, paragraphs, and sections to maximize the reader’s access to the document’s message.

Nouns and pronouns inform the reader who is acting and what is required.

Verbs inform the reader of past, present, or future action.

Clear Word ChoiceIndication
“must not”Prohibited
The table suggests the clearest word choices to indicate that a statement is mandated, prohibited, permitted, or recommended.
Short wordsLong words
Familiar wordsFar-fetched words
Concrete wordsAbstract words
Single wordsExcessive words
Words based in Saxon languageWords based in Romance language
The table lists word choices to prefer and word choices to avoid.

A sentence structures words into an idea.

A paragraph structures ideas into a topic.

ConnectionConnecting Words
Adding a new pointalso, and, in addition, besides, what is more, similarly, further
Giving an examplefor instance, for example, for one thing, for another thing
Giving a resultso, as a result, thus, therefore, accordingly, then
Contrastingbut, however, on the other hand, still, nevertheless, conversely
Closingto summarize, to sum up, to conclude, in conclusion, in short
Sequencingfirst, second, third, finally
The table lists types of connections and the connecting words for each type.

We limit confusion by approaching certain tools with caution.

Federal Plain Language Guidelines (pub’d March 2011, updated May 2011, accessed 8/15/23).

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