Easy to Read materials, sometimes called Easy Read, provide information in plain English. They are accessible to people with learning disabilities as well as others who may have difficulty reading or understanding information such as children and people whose first language is not English.
Writing easy to read materials involves several important steps:
· Plan out your approach
· Visual presentation
Plan out your approach
It is important when planning easy to read documents, as a writer, to know your audience. You need to consider the reading level, cultural background and attitudes, age group and English language proficiency.
When planning your document try to include your target audience. Bring members of the audience into the early planning stages of the document, if possible.
Aim to work with your target audience. You may wish to use tools such as surveys and interviews to learn about the needs of the target group. If
research is not possible because of time or budget constraints, contact other organisations who communicate regularly with similar target audiences.
Identify your objectives and expected outcomes.
Keep the document free of jargon, avoid technical terms and try to use plain English
Keep the focus of the document on a few key ideas
Use a clear topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph. Follow the topic sentence with details and examples
Using examples and stories may help to engage readers
Use the “you” attitude as this personalisation helps readers understand how the document relates to them
Structure the material logically. Some users prefer step-by-step instructions. Others may find ideas arranged from the general to the specific easier to understand
Where the document describes a desired behaviour try to highlight the benefits of adopting the behaviour
Do not make assumptions about people who read at a low-level.
Always keep an adult perspective
Find alternatives for complex words, jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms. When no alternatives are available, spell complex terms and abbreviations phonetically and give clear definitions
Keep most sentences short. Use varied sentence length to make them interesting, but keep sentences simple
Use the active voice and vivid verbs
Visual presentation and representation
Use colours that are appealing to your target audience
Use pictures and photographs with concise captions
Keep captions close to the graphics
Avoid graphs and charts unless they help understanding
Balance the use of text, graphics, and clear or “white” space
Avoid words or sentences in all capital letters and avoid italics
Use bold sub-headings to separate and highlight document sections
When possible, use graphics or spell out fractions and percentages
To help produce illustrated Easy to Read documents several organisations have put together collections of commonly used graphics for use in publications. These can be purchased from commercial and voluntary sector sources and usually grant you a license to use the pictures within your own organisation.
Always test your materials on a sample group from your target audience. Evaluate and revise your material if necessary. This testing during writing can help ensure your audience is getting the message you intended.
Using Plain English
Plain English is good, clear writing which communicates as simply and effectively as possible. It is not a childish or simplistic form of English. Plain English improves understanding and can save time and money. Documents produced in plain English are easier to translate into other languages and formats.
Plain English focuses on the message. It uses only as many words as necessary and avoids jargon, unnecessary technical expressions and complex language. In other words, plain English is the opposite of gobbledegook and long-winded, confusing communication.
Plain English documents are written for the people reading and using them. It uses words they will know. This means that a document can use technical or specialised terms and still be plain English. For example, an article in a dental journal may use specialised language that dentists will understand. An article on the same topic written for a popular magazine will use terms familiar to the public.
Complex ideas can be explained in plain English. Many legal documents, such as agreements, contracts and legislation, have been rewritten in plain English and are still legally accurate.
The most important principle of plain English is that documents are developed and written from the reader’s viewpoint. This means that you may need to rethink the layout and purpose of your documents.
What does the reader need to know?
How much do they understand about the subject?
What’s the best way to organise ideas so they make sense to the reader?
You can also ask if your document is necessary, or would another method of communication work better?
For plain English to work the design has to be clear. The clearest writing will still be difficult to understand if the layout is messy or confusing. If the print is small or hard to read, or uses colours which don’t stand out against the background. Following the Clear Print guidelines will help to achieve this.
The test of success is not just that a document reads well, but whether it communicates to your reader. The only sure way to know whether you are getting your message across is to talk with the people who will be reading your document.
Source: "Information Alternatives - A guide to providing accessible information