Planning your communication

Before you sit down to write, walking through these questions can help you clarify your message. Your writing may have to be technical by necessity, depending on your audience, but you can still use the principles of plain language to more effectively communicate.

Getting started

  • Who is your audience?
  • What level of knowledge do they have about your topic?
  • What is the purpose of your communication?
  • What is the goal of your communication?
  • How will you know you’re successful?


  • What am I writing about?
  • What is the purpose of my writing? (provide information/instruction, report findings, making a request, etc.)
  • How will the person get this? (email, letter, web) Are there format considerations as a result?


  • What is my key message?
  • What does my reader need to know now?
  • What specific actions do I want my reader to take?
  • What questions will my reader ask?
  • What does my reader need from me to accomplish these actions?

Word Tools

Do use:

Use your words as simply as possible:

  • Due to the fact = because
  • In the event of = if
  • Failed to = didn't
  • Adjacent to = next to

Active voice:

  • No: The grant was awarded by BWSR.
  • Yes: BWSR awarded the grant.

Active Verbs: 

  • Provide assistance with: assist
  • Give consideration to: consider


  •  I, we, you, they, their, etc.

Present Tense:

  •  No: the fee shall be $250
  • Yes: The fee is $250


  • We've, you'll, they'll, etc.


Try to avoid:

Acronyms and abbreviations

We operate in an acronym-heavy environment, and sometimes they’re hard to avoid, but to the extent you can minimize their usage, do.


"Totally," "awesome," "absolutely," "critical,"


"rules and regulations"--choose one!


We use a lot of technical terminology in our agency, and we need to be careful not to assume knowledge on the part of our audience. Explain technical terms as clearly as possible. Include examples that explain the meaning of unfamiliar terms

Formatting Tools

Formatting your document for readability helps your reader find and understand your key information.


  • Short sentences: Aim for an average of no more than 15-20 words in each sentence
  • Short paragraphs: Your paragraphs should be no longer than seven lines
  • Small lists: If you have long lists of information, group them into smaller, related lists to keep your reader engaged.
  • White space: Open space is as important as words. Documents that are too busy are distracting and hard to read. White space helps direct your reader to your content. This also makes copying and scanning easier, useful if you are creating a Fact Sheet or other tool for larger audiences.
  • Headings: This is a great way to break up your content into easily identifiable sections. The BWSR Style Guide has examples of how to use headings effectively.
  • Tables: Are there particular pieces of information you can pull out into tables or charts? This is a handy visual communication tool.
  • Illustrations: What graphics or pictures can help you tell your story? Remember the old adage, “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

 Final Checklist

Did you:

  • Organize your communication so that your key message is first, followed by other information your reader might need?
  • Write your piece at a level that your targeted audiences will understand?
  • Use personal pronouns?
  • Use active voice?
  • Avoid acronyms and technical jargon as much as possible?
  • Write in simple, clear sentences?
  • Format your document for readability, calling attention to the most critical information?
  • Proofread for grammar and spelling?
  • Ask another person to give it a final read-through?