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.

Instructional hours: 9


Location: Online
Format: Self-paced within deadlines set by instructor
Duration: 3 weeks
Tuition: $350
Can be applied to:
Plain Language Certificate
Editing Certificate

Upcoming Offerings

Register for a course at any time, with the option to apply to a program later.

Start Date
Seats Available
Start DateTue, Jun 20, 2023
  • Tue, Jun 20 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Jun 27 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Jul 4 (self-paced all week)
InstructorJulie Clement
Seats Available5
Start DateTue, Sep 12, 2023
  • Tue, Sep 12 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Sep 19 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Sep 26 (self-paced all week)
InstructorWendy Barron
Seats Available24
Start DateTue, Oct 17, 2023
  • Tue, Oct 17 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Oct 24 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Oct 31 (self-paced all week)
InstructorKari Hasselriis
Seats Available24

What you will learn

After completing this course, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • 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 you will learn and be evaluated

Prepare to spend 6-10 hours per week on coursework, including:

  • Readings
  • Assignments
  • Online discussions

You will be evaluated on:

  • Participation in discussions
  • 2 assignments (second assignment due 1 week after course ends)

Learning Materials

Course fees do not include textbooks. We recommend you purchase your textbook as soon as you’ve registered. We will provide additional course materials online.

Recommended reading:

Cutts, Martin. Oxford Guide to Plain English (5th Edition). Oxford University Press, 2020. ISBN 978-0198844617. Available as e-book from Red Shelf.

Technical Requirements

For online courses, you will need a computer with audio and microphone that is connected to the internet. Canvas is the online system that will be used for the course. For more information and online support, visit Online Learning.

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.