Today is World Book Day,  which comes over a year after people were told to stay indoors and limit their interactions with others. During this time, books took on an added significance.

On a personal level, books can help to combat isolation and stimulate our imaginations. And, from a professional development level, they can be leveraged to help expand our horizons, stimulate our minds and drive creativity. From a training perspective, courseware books must, through their wording, structure and design, clearly communicate the key information that architects, engineers and building professionals need to enhance their software skills and knowledge.
More and more organizations around the world are adopting the use of plain language for all kinds of documents, including websites, training guides, and legal documents. They are recognizing the importance of producing communications that are easily understood by their intended audiences.
This may be especially true when writing for a technical audience, particularly when the goal is to teach new users software or design skills, as we do with our learning guides here at ASCENT. You want your audience to be able to understand your content the first time they read it.
There are extensive resources available for learning how to write using plain language, but I believe there are three main things you can look at to get started:
  • Your audience and purpose
  • The language you use
  • Your document’s structure and design
Audience and Purpose
If your goal is to produce a document that follows plain language principles, the first thing you should do is look at your audience and the purpose of your document – before you start writing. Consider the age, education, skills, and profession of your audience. This will help you determine the appropriate vocabulary, style, tone, and reading level to use. It will also help guide you when you are deciding what to include in your document. What will your audience already know and what background information will they need to understand your text? What are they trying to learn or accomplish by reading your document?
The language you use in your document should be at a level that your audience will be comfortable with. Jargon should generally be avoided or, in the case of more specialized texts, clearly explained so that your readers will understand it. Use simpler terms where possible and be consistent with your terminology. This is especially important for our ASCENT learning guides as they can contain a lot of technical terms. We strive to be consistent throughout the guide while also making sure that the terms used are consistent with what is used in the software being taught. This ensures continuity for our audience and makes it easier to connect the concepts in the book to the software interface.
Document Structure and Design
Once your document is written, be sure to take the time to evaluate it to make sure it follows these plain language principles and is appropriate for your audience.
About the Author
Breanne MacDonald, Technical Editor, ASCENT Center for Technical Knowledge
Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is the vice president of the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.