Course Descriptions

Plain Language Principles

Fall 2009

3 Thursdays, October 22–November 5, 9:30 am–12:30 pm, Vancouver
Instructor: Ruth Wilson
Fee $310 / WRIT 470

Course description

Plain language means effective communication. It means getting the information to the right people in the best way in the clearest manner. It means listening and responding appropriately to the needs of the public. And it means being sensitive to the issues of literacy and its relationship to empowering people who may have been discriminated against or sidelined by a tangle of “bureaucratese.” This course introduces participants to the basics of preparing materials in a clear and understandable fashion. Whether you work on public documents, books, articles, forms or web material, the process is the same. Topics covered include understanding your purpose and audience, doing the research, writing and editing skills for plain language and plain language design.


There are no prerequisites for this course.

What will I learn?

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Define plain language
  • Understand the importance of plain language in public documents
  • Understand how and why written communication can break down
  • Identify “problem” words and phrases
  • Recognize design elements that can contribute to plain language documents
  • Assess the need to test documents for plain language effectiveness

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Define the readers for a document
  • Identify the purpose of a document
  • Apply the principles of organizing information for a reader
  • Use words with clear meanings
  • Write with active verbs
  • Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases
  • Use point form and lists appropriately
  • Write clear, direct and short sentences and paragraphs
  • Create effective headings and subheadings
  • Develop a process for plain language writing and editing on the job

How will I learn?

You will learn concepts and skills through the following activities:

  • Lectures
  • Class discussions
  • Group assignments
  • Exercises (in-class)
  • Independent in-class writing assignments
  • Extra reading

What are my responsibilities?

You can expect to:

  • Complete two assignments
  • Participate in class discussion
  • Write a take-home final exam (required for certificate students, optional for others)

How will I be evaluated?

Your work will be evaluated based on the following:

  • Self/peer evaluation
  • Assignments/reports/projects
  • Participation
  • 100% final exam

What will the program supply?

  • Custom course materials

Instructor biography

Ruth Wilson has been working in the publishing industry since 1981, entering the business immediately after graduating with a BA (Hons) in English. She worked for 16 years at Self-Counsel Press, moving up over the years in several positions, from editorial assistant to managing editor. In the latter position she supervised the production and editorial department and was responsible for acquiring manuscripts and editing at all stages.

Since 1997 she has worked as an independent contractor, writing, editing and proofreading for a variety of clients: book publishers, international agencies, professional associations, post-secondary institutions and more. She has been an instructor in Writing and Publishing for 10 years, and she serves on two advisory boards of the program. She also leads editing workshops for other clients.

She is an active member of the Editors’ Association of Canada, having served as chair of the Certification Steering Committee and a member of the Standards Committee working group. She is also a partner of West Coast Editorial Associates.

See also


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