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 - Kari Hasselriis $350.00 20 Register
Online - Katherine McManus $350.00 25 Register
Online - - TBD $350.00 27 Register
Online - - TBD $350.00 29 Register
Online - - TBD $350.00 30 Register
Online - - TBD $350.00 30 Register

Instructional hours: 9

Schedule clarification: This course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. Between those times, you work at your own pace within the timelines set by the instructor.

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 assess 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 purpose of a document and its audience
  • 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?

Prepare to spend six to 10 hours per week on coursework, including:

  • Weekly course modules accessed through Canvas
  • Independent writing assignments
  • Extra reading
  • Online research and discussion groups

Course materials will be available 24/7, and assignment deadlines will be posted well in advance, allowing you to set your own pace for learning.

How will I be evaluated?

  • Participation in discussions
  • Two assignments (second assignment due one week after course ends)

Textbooks and learning materials

You are responsible for purchasing the required and recommended texts, which are available in print and e-book formats.

All other course materials will be provided online.

Required text:

Stephens, Cheryl. Plain Language in Plain English,, 2010. ISBN 9780557537877 (e-book available from

Recommended texts:

Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English, Oxford University Press, 5th ed. 2020.
ISBN ISBN 978-0198844617 (e-book available)

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.

New to online learning? See About Online Learning for helpful videos and additional information.

English language requirements

To succeed in this course, you will need an advanced level of written and spoken English. If you are unsure whether your English language skills are sufficient, we recommend you complete the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with the following minimums:

  • Overall band score minimum 6.5
  • No band below 6.0
  • Writing band score minimum 8.0

Please note we can’t refund your registration fees after the course start date if you find your English language skills are not adequate.

If you have questions or concerns about your English language proficiency, we encourage you to contact your local IELTS Test Centre.

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