Plain English is a low benchmark. It's the minimum these days.

It does help council staff write to residents in a more approachable way, rather than as a bureaucrat from the 19th century, but it's not enough.

Councils need clarity in their writing - and not just in their enforcement roles. They are complex organisations and ambiguity between colleagues is inefficient.

Councils need their staff to spend less time writing, rather than cutting, pasting and changing text until somehow it seems a little better, but they are not sure why.

Councils need to build cooperative relationships with their residents.

So what's the next level?

Four suggestions.

1. Focus on the reader. It sounds easy, but it's a demanding discipline. Keep asking yourself, 'Would the my colleague or my resident understand my point? How useful is this idea, sentence or paragraph for this reader?'

2. Be direct - appropriately direct. Say what you mean and say it early so they know why they are reading your report, email, or letter. Could you put your recommendations up front? They'll read them first anyway.

Be direct in paragraphs too. Give each paragraph a topic sentence, followed by supporting information. We call it 'state and expand'.

3. Use the active voice. 'I have assessed the risks', not ,'The risks have been assessed' 'Graph 1 summarises the results' not, 'The results are summarised in Graph 1'. 'The Council has decided to...' not 'It has been decided that...'

4. Add humans. 'We received 214 objections to the application', not, 'The application received 214 objections'. Even, 'The Council received...' suggests humans did the receiving, and makes more sense.

5. Build relationships with informality. Imagine you are talking to an individual resident.


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