Writing and content

Use clear and simple language

Words are your tools, so it’s important to choose them carefully. Your ideas can be complex and sophisticated, but your writing should express them simply.

Clearly written messages also show respect and consideration for your audience, which helps build better relationships. The following writing tools will help you do that.

Be reader-friendly

Connect with your audience directly by using words like ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘I’, if that’s an appropriate tone for your message. Think of your written words as the start of a conversation.

Match your level of technical language to your audience. Academic staff will understand the meaning of some phrases and terms about curriculum or assessments, but students may not. If you have to use bureaucratic, technical or legal terms, include a definition or explanation.

Be clear

Using plain and clear language helps your audience read, understand and use the information you are giving them.

Tip: Where possible, choose a simple word or phrase over a complex one. Writing in short, simple words doesn’t mean you are ‘dumbing down’ the message. It means you are communicating your important and complex ideas as clearly and effectively as possible.

The principles of plain language include:

  • structuring your message logically
  • using headings, subheadings, lists and tables to help readers navigate through your material
  • writing short, uncomplicated sentences and leaving out anything that isn’t necessary for your message
  • choosing common, everyday words rather than jargon or technical terms
  • only using acronyms when absolutely necessary and always defining them the first time they appear
  • using white space, typography that is easy to read and visual tools.
ComplexSimple ComplexSimple
a large number of many   in order that for, so
advantageous helpful   in regard to about
ameliorate improve   in the event that if
commence begin, start   inception start
commensurate equal   leverage use
consolidate combine, join, merge   optimise perfect
constitutes is, forms, makes up   pertaining to about, of, on
construct build   prescribed required
deleterious harmful   proficiencies skills
disseminate issue, send   proximity near
due to the fact that because   regarding about
endeavour try   subsequently after or later
erroneous wrong   successfully complete complete, pass
expeditious fast   sufficient enough
facilitate ease, help   utilise use
implement carry out   was of the opinion that thought
in lieu of instead   with the exception of except for

Be inclusive

Using inclusive language shows courtesy and respect for diversity. Before identifying particular characteristics about people when you write, ask whether it is necessary and relevant to the discussion.

Tip: Avoid gendered pronouns: Avoid writing his/her, it is now acceptable to use ‘their’ even if the subject of your sentence is singular.

If it is necessary, then use words that emphasise people’s humanity, rather than focusing on their gender, race, cultural background, religion, age, sexual orientation, physical or intellectual ability or appearance.

Correct Incorrect
people with disabilities disabled people
first or given name Christian name
English as an additional language (EAL) or languages other than English (LOTE) non-English speaking background (NESB)
domestic partner husband or wife
police officer policeman
Write your answers in the booklet supplied. The student should write his/her answers in the booklet supplied.

Use an active voice

Using the active voice means being clear about who (the ‘actor’) is doing what (the ‘action’). For example, ‘The ball was kicked’ is passive, as we don’t know who kicked the ball. ‘The teacher kicked the ball’ is active.

Writing in the active voice gives the reader more information, and it also adds accountability to your message.

Active Passive
We made mistakes.Mistakes were made.
Federation residential students raised $500 towards a very worthy cause.$500 was raised towards a very worthy cause.

When the action is more important than the actor, the passive voice is appropriate. For example, ‘The new library will be opened in January’, is passive, but the important message is that the library will be opened, not who is opening it.