Last Thursday was the 2012 WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards and it was a lovely night out. I was humbled to pick up a Best Plain English Technical Communicator Award of Distinction for content I wrote for the Xero Help Centre.
The awards were decided by a panel of global plain English experts. In a nutshell, here is what the experts look for:
“Plain English is a style of writing in which the language, structure, and presentation of a document all work together to help the reader. A document written in plain English is easy to read, understand, and act upon after just one reading.” – Quote from WriteMark website.
Plain English isn’t about dumbing down content. It’s about smartening it up, so you can quickly find what you’re looking for, and understand it. We know you’re busy. And we know time is money.
Plain English techniques we use to write our Xero Help Centre content are:
- Short sentences and real, everyday language
- Text chunked up into short paragraphs and sections
- Active language, so you know who does what, rather than what gets done
- Information structured so the most important comes first, and the detail comes last
- Naming link-text as signposts to other content, and left-aligning them so you can scan them
- Lots of keywords, so the Help search engine finds the page you’re looking for
You can find our Help Centre directly or through the Xero application menu bar:
Every Xero release introduces new changes for the Help Centre team to write about, and under tight timeframes. It’s no easy task but we love the challenge. We’re committed to writing Help content you can find quickly and easily, and understand.
We’ll continue to write shorter pages – with sections on concepts, tasks, and details – for new features, and gradually rewrite older content using this style.
I encourage you to apply the techniques of plain English too. It really does make a difference.