Keep it simple and get to the point quickly. Brevity is especially important if the text is going to be read online. Using Plain English helps you communicate clearly and effectively, which means you’re more likely to get your message across. Colleagues at the University of Kent has produced a Plain English toolkit that you may find useful.
Use the active voice. The text should read as though it is addressed to an individual. Use ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ when referring to yourself as writer and use ‘you’ to refer to the individual reader. ‘We’ can be used to refer to the author and the reader together (‘as we saw in the previous section’), but should be avoided when referring to a/the discipline academic community or a single notional society.
Use gender neutral language. It is acceptable to use ‘they’ instead of ‘he/she’.
Left-align content, in particular lists, as readers scan text from left to right and down in an F-shaped pattern (Nielsen, 2006). Exceptions to this are languages that are read from right to left, or where the formatting contributes to the meaning of the text, such as poetry.
Use bulleted lists to break up text or long paragraphs. It is easier for audiences to read and comprehend short pieces of information rather than large chunks of text.
Only use numbered lists if the order of the items is important.
Avoid excessive use of italics and upper-case when formatting text as these can be difficult to read online. You may use bold to highlight particular points or words throughout the text; however, as bold is also generally used for headings avoid using it too much as it may detract from their impact.
Don't use underlining when formatting text - underlining is associated with links and confuses the reader if used for other purposes.
Don’t forget to make use of hyperlinks to avoid repeating information that can be found elsewhere. Always write descriptive and meaningful hyperlinks and, if needed, use a URL shortening service (e.g. https://tinyurl.com) to reduce the length of the URL.
You must ensure that link text contains specific information as to the purpose of the link. Link text such as ‘Read more’ must be avoided, and text such as 'Read more about assessing presentations' could be used instead. If in doubt, use the title of the page being linked to as the link text.
Screen reader users may tab through links to skim web pages, or may use a command to list all links on a page. In these cases the links will be read out of context and any ambiguous links (e.g. click here, read more) will be meaningless.
If an image is used as a hyperlink and there is no other text in the link, the image must have ‘alt text’ (see below) which indicates the destination or purpose of the link.