Why is plain language important?

49% of Canadian adults struggle to understand complex text[1]. If we do not use plain language to write our documents, almost half of Canadian adults will not understand them. Using plain language ensures that the biggest number of people will have access to the information they need.

We cannot assume who will struggle with text based on education, either. Reading skills do not always correspond to education levels: 27% of Canadian adults with postsecondary education struggle to understand complex text[2].

However, plain documents are better for everyone, not just people who struggle with complex text. is the amount of information someone can hold in their working memory at one time.[3] People who have to read a lot of information for their jobs tend to have a high cognitive load, which can lead to reading fatigue. You can help reduce your colleagues’ reading fatigue by making sure your documents are written in plain, clear language.

Plain language writing also saves everyone time. If people understand your writing the first time they read it, they will not have to ask you questions to clarify what you meant, and you will not have to spend time correcting the mistakes they make because they did not understand what you wrote.

 

Plain documents …

  • make it more likely people will follow directions correctly
  • reduce reading fatigue and cognitive load
  • decrease the chance of miscommunication
  • save time for everyone
  • provide equity and access

 

 


  1. Statistics Canada. (2013). Skills in Canada: First results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Government of Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/89-555-x/89-555-x2013001-eng.pdf?st=wEmgaEre
  2. Statistics Canada. Skills in Canada: First results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).
  3. Sweller, J. (April 1988). "Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning." Cognitive Science. 12 (2): 257-285. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog1202_4.

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