Plain Language Principles

Plain language is the key to effective communication, allowing you to get the most important information to the right people as clearly and as effectively as possible. In this course, you’ll learn the writing standards and practices outlined within the plain language field. You’ll also develop a sensitivity to the issues of literacy and work toward empowering people who may have been marginalized or sidelined by a tangle of “bureaucratese.”

This course will introduce you to the basics of preparing materials that are clear and understandable. Whether you work on public documents, books, articles, forms or web material, the process is the same. Topics include understanding your purpose and your audience, doing research, writing and editing skills for plain language, and plain language design.

The final project for this course is due one week after the course ends.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Julie Clement $350.00 12 Register
Online - Julie Clement $350.00 24 Register
Online - Wendy Barron $350.00 30 -
Online - Julie Clement $350.00 30 -
Online - Wendy Barron $350.00 30 -

Instructional hours: 9

For online offerings, registration may close up to two business days before the course begins. Your course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. The interim dates/times are not your actual online class times.

What will I learn?

On completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Explain how and why written communication can break down
  • Define and describe the importance of plain language
  • Identify problematic words and phrases and test documents for plain language effectiveness
  • Develop a process for plain language writing and editing on the job
  • Recognize and use design elements that can contribute to plain language, including effective headings and subheadings, point form and lists
  • Define the audience and purpose of a document
  • Organize information clearly for readers
  • Write clear, direct and short sentences and paragraphs, eliminating unnecessary words and phrases
  • Use active verbs and words with clear meaning

How will I learn?

  • Group assignments
  • Independent writing assignments
  • Extra reading
  • Online research and discussion groups

How will I be evaluated?

Evaluation methods may vary, but you will be evaluated using standard university evaluation approaches, such as a combination of examinations, projects, labs, papers, case studies, assignments and individual and group participation. An A to F letter grading scale will be used. To qualify for a certificate, you must successfully complete the program courses with an overall minimum B average.

Textbooks and learning materials

** Strongly Recommended **

Stephens, C. Plain Language in Plain English (purchase ebook from external site).

Cutts, M. Oxford Guide to Plain English (2013, 4th ed., ISBN 9780199669172).

Hardware and software requirements 

We deliver this course using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

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