Saturday, 17 September 2011

Writing for people who struggle to read

Avoid contractions
Did you know that 'don't' is harder to understand than 'do not' for people with cognitive impairments and for those who have English as a second language?

So says the Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts.

Avoid metaphors
For newcomers to English, avoid metaphors.

So 'It's a piece of cake' or 'It's plain sailing' become 'It's easy'. That way no one will expect free cake or boat trips.

Phrasal verbs
For people with English as a second language, phrasal verbs such as 'give up' and 'get on' can be problematic.

'He gave up smoking' is really 'He stopped smoking' - not much connection with the original meaning of 'to give'. And 'We get on well' means 'We're friends'.

It's OK!
OK is a good word to use as it's familiar to most.

User testing
Testing your material on your audience will tell you whether you've got your wording right. If you can't splash out on a focus group, just testing it on one or two people can reveal a lot.

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