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Friday, November 30, 2012

Contented Plain Language Objective Test: research-based and free — Rachel McAlpine, Contented Blog

So, you've finished the first draft of a document, or you've just drafted the first section of a document. And before you continue, you want to make sure you're on the right track with it--not just in its content but also in its ease of use for your readers, its clarity, its readability.

In this article, Rachel McAlpine of New Zealand describes a useful 10-point objective test for plain language based on research-supported guidelines. She also provides a downloadable version of the test, easy to keep handy at your desk for reviewing and revising your documents.

With permission of McAlpine and, here's the test:
Contented's Plain Language Objective Test (PLOT)
  1. The main message and purpose of the document are obvious at the beginning. (Test this with five outsiders.)
  2. The structure of the document is obvious, for example through an informative title, headlines and table of contents. (Test this with five outsiders.)
  3. Necessity rules. The document contains no unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs or facts—and all necessary ones.
  4. All paragraphs have one topic, which is obvious from the first sentence. Most paragraphs are shorter than 100 words.
  5. Most sentences are short (21 words maximum) and simple (subjects near verbs). Count a capitalised title as a single word.
  6. Most words are familiar to the intended reader and most nouns are concrete.
  7. Most verbs are active, short, and uncomplicated.
  8. An accessible, easy-to-read template is used correctly. Headings and sub-headings are styled Heading 1 and Heading 2.
  9. The document follows a style guide and uses correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  10. The Flesch Reading Ease test gives the document a score of at least 60. This score shows that 60% of adults can easily read and understand the document.
At Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide, you can find and use a longer list of questions to ask when testing your document for clarity.

McAlpine's article is featured today, Nov. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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