Plain language resources

The best plain language resources from Australia and overseas – research, guidelines and practical advice.

The foundation's list of plain language resources is broken up into activities to help you find what you are looking for. Search for a particular topic by keyword or filter by activity. The resources include a range of historical materials that were influential in the development of plain language, particularly in Australia.

We have developed a guide on how we have grouped the resources to make it easier for you to use them.

435 resources
Victoria Law Foundation logo
Essential writing tools
Legal writing

Legal glossary

Developed in consultation with lawyers and law dictionary editors, this plain language glossary explains more than 450 common legal terms.

Legal professionals can use it in their work with clients and members of the public.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

How style guides can contribute to clear and consistent writing

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In this entertaining and useful keynote, David spoke about what style is – and isn’t. He spoke about the value of using a style guide and its core elements: grammar and syntax, punctuation, words and spelling, and values.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Usability and social responsibility: online publishing

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In this keynote, David Berman gave a convincing address on why computer-mediated accessibility to information – and standards – are important for everyone: to broaden audiences, to comply with the law, to drive down costs, or simply to be socially responsible.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Empathy: the forgotten element of successful communication

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In this thought-provoking presentation, Dr Bosley reminded us that people read with their emotions, make decisions based on emotions, and either move toward or away from a brand based on emotions. As plain language communicators, Dr Bosley argued that we have undervalued, or perhaps not even considered, the emotional impact that information has on readers. Dr Bosley also explained how marketing professionals know and count on emotional responses, but we seem to ignore it.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

What were they expecting? How user expectations affect the success or failure of communications

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Of all the factors that can affect the reception and comprehension of a message, audience expectations are among the most overlooked. Yet they can be one of the main sources of communications failure. In this presentation, Josiah looked at how expectations relate to needs and wants, and at the main types of expectations that influence receptiveness and what can shape them.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Black or white? What is right and what is wrong, and who decides what is wrong?

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This session explained how the Language Council of Sweden gives advice by telephone, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter regarding questions on correct language use, grammar, style, vocabulary, and so on. The view on what is right and wrong is today less normative, prescriptive and more descriptive, informative compared with some decades ago. This session asked interesting questions such as ‘How do we discuss and argue when we answer?’ It also asked participants how they would answer questions.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

The mobile future: plain language on a mobile web

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Dr Neil James vividly described the speed at which our world is going mobile. He told us that in 2014, global mobile data traffic grew almost 70%, to a level 30 times larger than the entire Internet for the year 2000. His point? Communication has a mobile future, and it is growing fast through a diverse range of small screens. Dr James briefly reviewed these fascinating mobile trends, updated with the latest reports from researchers such as Cisco and KPCB.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Repurposing lengthy FAQs into useful content

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Kathryn spoke about how we’ve all encountered a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that cause more harm than good. And how, instead of finding your answer, you leave with even more questions! This session briefly discussed and showcased some questions and answers before they had been written in plain language – and after. The difference was stark. Participants also got the chance to repurpose unwieldy FAQs into more user-friendly format.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Improving the linguistic quality in emails at Statistics Sweden

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This session presented and discussed a case study of plain language training for a group of about 10 people who reply to questions about statistics from the general public, journalists and professionals. The training focused on helping the group write more complete and helpful replies while letting training participants discover for themselves what needed to change and then form their own guidelines that everyone in the group agreed on. Always a good idea! The presentation shared the result of a follow-up study of the training which indicated that the training has had some effect, but some problems remain.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Risky business: clear communication in Canadian life and health insurance

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. The context for this session was the fact that for many years, people worked on clear communication initiatives in the Canadian life and health insurance industry at an individual level. In December 2010, Canada’s Task Force on Financial Literacy released a report that put the spotlight on the link between clear communication and financial literacy. It also singled out financial industry consumer documents, including life insurance policies, for their lack of clarity.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Why use 50,000 words when 500 will do

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In this session, Sarah Fox considered how the construction industry faces a trio of problems, storing up disasters waiting to happen. The standard form contracts are no longer fit for their purpose, there is increasing legislative and regulatory interference, and client expectations have never been higher. Many standard form construction contracts in the UK are wordy, complex and full of jargon. The proportion of construction projects that end in disputes has remained remarkably steady, despite regular revisions of those standard forms. Sarah explained how users are faced with a bewildering array of choice – choosing options within options – and how ‘standard’ clauses are subjected to constant tinkering by the legal profession.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Help me read: using reading strategies as a guide for clear language writing

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Understanding how people read, what helps or hinders comprehension, helps us write clearly and effectively for our target audience. In this session, Diana looked at the reading skills and strategies of fluent readers. She also showed samples of clearly written and accessible public legal education and information to see how they model these effective strategies, particularly for readers whose skills are developing.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Clear writing coaching

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This session was a starting point in extending plain English beyond the training room walls into the wider organisation by showing that documents are not ‘written’ by staff and ‘corrected’ by management, but are, rather, the result of an intelligent collaborative process.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Using graphics effectively online

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This presentation covered the basic principles of creating or selecting visuals (images, animations and layout) that make presentations and e-learning courses more engaging and easier to understand. It also provided numerous examples and gave participants real-world suggestions for choosing effective visuals.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Improving graphic sign language using a word grammar

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This session discussed how the grammar for word languages is more or less universal and describes how to design a correct and efficient word sentence. So, in this session, Dr Verhoef posed and discussed three questions: Is a word grammar applicable for a visual sign language? When the answer is 'Yes', the next question is: does the application of word grammar rules, improve sign understanding? When the answer is 'Yes', the next question is: What is wrong with today’s sign design?

Published: 2015

Research and journals

How Malaysians view plain English and what we do about it

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Yasmin gave an insightful overview into how Malaysians view learning English. They have an active opposition to the language and English is a second, third or fourth language for most Malaysians. Businesses also have a different requirement for their adult staff to improve their use of English. Yasmin explained that plain English provides a unique answer to these issues, one which she and her colleagues have found adds value to an organisation. She explained how they teach plain English as a second language to working adults, and shared her experience of promoting and teaching plain English in an Asian context.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Plain language culture: a tale of two countries and more… Becoming a plain language organisation and sustaining good practice

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Presenters in this session showed how it’s one thing to get your organisation to embrace plain language and say that it is important, but it is quite another to build the skillset, communicate and realise the value, and fuel the passion across your business or agency.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Finnish Easy-to-Read pamphlets about social benefits

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In this session, Solveig explained that Easy-to-Read writing is guided by rules concerning not only the written text but also pictures, design and typography. She identified the core specific traits of this type of writing in terms of length, content, word use and layout of text. Solveig explained that Easy-to-Read is easier than standard language and plain language, and reaches people who are likely to be excluded in society: senior citizens, immigrants, inexperienced readers, people with learning or reading difficulties, a developmental disability, and so on.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Easy-to-Read – to enhance participation for all

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. All people, regardless of reading skills, have the right to participate in society and have access to information. For people with low reading skills it is crucial that information is easy to find, easy to read and easy to understand. This session covered the basics of Easy-to-Read and gave examples on how Easy-to-Read initiatives in Sweden and Finland enable more people to participate in decisions regarding their own lives, welfare and public elections.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Report from a plain language project

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. In 2014 the municipality of Stevns in Denmark carried out a pilot project to initiate a plain language initiative covering the entire municipality. The pilot involved a small section of Social Services and dealt with the reformulation of a series of letters. A working group examined the letters that they send out to citizens in order to edit them to plain language principles. Dr Pedersen studied the group and noted that one of the biggest challenges was how to make sure that legal matters are properly addressed.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Layperson in legal land: effective plain language writing for court

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Participants learned some background information about the guardian ad litem (GAL) program in the state of Minnesota, USA. The GAL works primarily in juvenile protection and family court cases in which there is a question about the safety of children. The presentation discussed some of the unique challenges of working in a legal environment when many GAL have no legal training: using plain language can help the GAL to stand apart from other professionals involved in these court processes, due to the clarity and directness resulting from a plain language approach.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Successful user experience: strategy and roadmaps

Presentation at the 2015 conference. Properly designed technology starts with a deep understanding of the person using it. A good user experience is a key element in creating a successful product, service or document. Elizabeth presented strategies from her new book that integrates product team goal-setting with user needs and goals. This strategy provides actionable steps to create and implement innovative user experiences by getting buy-in from key stakeholders at project inception. The result is a wider adoption of user experience tools as a key component of product development.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Goldfish, clear communications and LUNAtics?

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. What do goldfish have to do with clear communications? LUNA is the methodology for designing information to ensure clear communications. Using examples, Robert skilfully demonstrated how Locate/Understand/Act is an effective process to create clear communications. LUNA incorporates the best practices and principles of information design, plain language, typography, graphic design, analysis, psychology, stakeholders and usability testing.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Making health research make sense

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Dr Mann, explained how in health and medical research, we become so accustomed to the jargon and technical language of our work that we expect everyone to understand it. But… they don’t. Together, under Dr Mann’s skillful guidance, participants explored why health research doesn’t always make sense, why it is important to make sense of it, and what we as plain language practitioners can do to make health research make sense for everyone.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Plain language handbook for legal writers

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. This presentation focused on: the perhaps surprising audiences and purposes for the A plain-language handbook for legal writers. It gave brief summaries of six new chapters and why they arose, and discussed three most unusual plain language documents from Volume 2’s models and examples. One is written by a judge, another by an Inuit government department, and the last – with a permission-to-use (and tailor) to a reader’s needs – by a plain language specialist and an expert wills lawyer.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Rewrite – how to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Rewrite is a one-of-a-kind book that highlights the tremendous cost of bad writing in business and government – and offers practical solutions for change. Drawing on years of commercial experience, Lynda Harris (New Zealand) and her colleagues have produced a handbook for improving bottom-line results by changing the way writers think. Rewrite proves the point that almost anyone with vision, determination and a proven system can transform the way their organisation communicates.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Using plain language to protect consumers

Presentation at the PLAIN 2015 conference. Colm Kincaid gave a brief outline of the Central Bank’s Revised Consumer Protection Code (2012) and its requirements in terms of plain language. He explained that while plain language guidelines and testing are encouraged, much more needs to be done to promote the use of plain language.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Plain language, citizens and the European Ombudsman

Presented at the PLAIN conference in 2015, the European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, spoke eloquently about the value of plain language, focusing on its value to government and the public administration sector. She also spoke about how her office deals with complaints against the EU institutions.

Published: 2015

Research and journals

Clear health information is the best remedy

Presented at the PLAIN conference 2015, Dr Murray from MSD described what health literacy is, levels of health literacy and general literacy. He looked at patient health behaviours and outcomes, and how they are linked to low health literacy. Dr Murray mentioned some MSD projects focused on improving health outcomes, and why these are important.

Published: 2015

Pages

This page was last updated on October 15, 2015