Simple language is writing that everyone can understand. You are only able to write this way if you understand exactly what it is that you want to say. That is; communicating in a clear, simple manner.

Words matter, they are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Do not complicate things by using jargon, technical terms, or abbreviations that people will not understand.

Whether it is a website, a press release or a speech, your audience should not have to read (or listen to) your content multiple times to comprehend its meaning. You don’t want your prospective customer to view your website and wonder what you are selling. When you craft your message in simple language, it’s easier to understand and remember.

Picture credit: http://www.unicef.org

Here are a few tips to help you improve your professional relationships by using direct, clear, simple language:

Speak in active voice

Most high-level speeches attempt to do one of three things: instruct, inspire or motivate to action.

All of these indicate momentum. The best way to keep a speech moving is to use the active voice when we write, not the passive voice. In the active voice, the subject is doing a specific action to an object. For example;

Active voice: The Bank of Uganda’s act of 1993 introduced new requirements to strengthen the banking system.

Passive voice: New requirements were introduced to strengthen the banking system.

Unless it is a calculated decision, we want our speeches to be active. And in the active voice.

Maximize verbs, action words. They keep the speech moving forward. It is about more than words, of course. Momentum builds excitement and makes the speaker sound more confident. A leader who takes action. One who makes commitments.

Keep it short

Keep them short. Readers are more likely to read a longer message broken into several short paragraphs than they are a shorter message without breaks. Each paragraph should contain only one main point, and this should be developed with concrete evidence and details.

If you expect a positive response, present your conclusions or major idea first, followed by the reasons or support. If you expect a negative response, present your reasons first and conclusions later.

Use display appropriately within paragraphs to help get your message across. Numbered points and bullets are very helpful, and side headings can be useful when you have to include things like date, time and venue.

Avoid jargon and unfamiliar expressions

This is especially important when you are writing for the public. Even for internal documents, consider using an alternative expression if some of your readers may not know the specialized term. Expressions such as roll out, stakeholder and re-engineering may be unclear except to a specialized audience and tend to be overused.

Administrative jargon and officialese can cloud the message and make it incomprehensible to many readers.

Instead of this:

• The challenges of the position involve ensuring the provision of delivery of the program in the most efficient manner possible in light of an ever-changing client profile which is impacted on by the adjustments to the programs necessitated by changing federal legislation and by the incidence of federal cutbacks in resource allotments.

Write this:

• The challenges of the position include delivering the program as efficiently as possible in light of an ever-changing client profile, changes in federal legislation and resource cutbacks.

Use simple present tense when appropriate

The simple present tense in communication is used to describe an action that is regular, true or normal.

We use the present tense:

1. For repeated or regular actions in the present time period.

• I take the taxi to the office.

• The taxi to Kampala leaves every two hours.

• John sleeps eight hours every night during the week.

2. For facts.

• The President of The Uganda lives in The State House.

• A dog has four legs.

• We come from Masaka.

3. For habits.

• I get up early every day.

• Carol brushes her teeth twice a day.

• They travel to their country house every weekend.

4. For things that are always / generally true.

• It rains a lot in March.

• The King of Buganda lives in Mengo palace.

• They speak English at work.

Define key terms

Even though your speech could be about something that is otherwise common knowledge to your audience, it is helpful to also define key terms for them as you go along in your speech. Even though you may have outlined your plan of attack by delimiting the question, it also helps to explain exactly what you’re talking about to your audience.

When you establish your key terms by defining them for your audience, you set a baseline standard of understanding for your audience, thus eliminating any confusion. Avoid defining every single key term throughout your speech. Make sure you only highlight and define those words that are necessary for establishing a foundation of your speech topic.

Use vivid language

Use imagery to help an audience member or create a mental picture of what a speaker is saying. A speaker who uses imagery successfully will tap into one or more of the audience’s five basic senses (hearing, taste, touch, smell, and sight). This helps your listeners create strong, distinct, clear, and memorable mental images. Good vivid language usage helps an audience member, truly understand and imagine what a speaker is saying.

Structure your message

Have an introduction, body and conclusion

A little bit of planning will make your documents look good. Make sure every business message incorporates these aspects:

1. Background: Why are you writing? Maybe refer to a previous letter, contact or document.

2. State the facts: Give information/instructions. Ask for information. Provide all relevant details.

3. Expected response: Action the reader should take and a timeframe. Action you will take.

4. Conclusion: A simple one-line closing sentence.

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