Plain Language in the Arts
Creatives Rebuild New York is using plain language to make information about our organization and programs more accessible. We are working with Reid Caplan, an expert in this field, and we have invited them to offer an introduction to this framework.
Plain language is a way of writing. Plain language gets written using shorter words and smaller sentences. That helps everyone understand ideas and information more clearly.
Plain language helps people who have a hard time reading because of their disability. But writing in plain language helps lots of other people, too.
Plain language helps:
- people who are learning English.
- people who didn’t get a chance to learn how to read complicated writing.
- people who don’t read a lot.
Plain language helps everyone learn more about what is important to them.
Usually, people write in ways that are hard to understand. Society teaches us that writing using difficult words makes us sound smarter. Then, research and policies get written using long, confusing words. That isn’t fair!
Everyone deserves to understand the information that affects our lives. People with disabilities should not have to deal with inaccessible information. Access is a human right. That is why we should all try to write in plain language.
Writing in plain language is extra important in the arts. There are lots of artists that don’t read well. Artists shouldn’t have to read well to be artists. But lots of information about art gets written in complicated ways.
For example, grants are money that artists can apply for. Artists can use grant money to pay for their art projects. But grant programs make artists fill out an application. The applications are written in ways that are hard to understand. And grant programs expect artists to write about their art using complicated words. That makes it harder for some artists to get grants. Then, those artists have a harder time making money from their art.
We looked at the websites of some of the biggest art organizations in New York. Plain language gets written at a middle school reading level (6th-8th grade). But the front pages of their websites were at a college reading level! Lots of people would have trouble understanding these websites. Art organizations have a lot of work to do putting information into plain language.
Want to get started writing in plain language? Here are some rules for you to follow:
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs.
- Use words you see in everyday life. Avoid long, difficult words.
- Write definitions for important words.
- Use examples to help readers understand your ideas.
- Don’t put in information you don’t need.
- Use clear and direct words. Don’t use sarcasm or metaphors.
Once you’ve written something, you should check the reading level. A good website to check reading level is Hemingway.com. Try to get your reading level as low as you can. If you get the reading level to 8th grade or below, congratulations! You just wrote in plain language.
People write about all kinds of things in plain language. Here is a resource in plain language about climate change. Even though climate change is a complicated topic, it can still work in plain language. We wrote this blog post in plain language!
We think anything can get written in plain language if we try hard enough. We hope you will try to write in plain language, too! It will take time and energy to learn how to write in plain language. But writing in plain language is worth doing. Plain language can help more people learn about and make art. Plain language can help all kinds of artists have more chances to succeed.
If you want to learn more about plain language, here are some resources:
Reid’s introduction to Plain Language (video): Writing for Cognitive Accessibility
Autistic Self Advocacy Network: One Idea Per Line: A Guide to Making Easy Read Resources
Self Advocacy Info: Learn how to write using Plain Language
Green Mountain Self Advocates: Getting Your Message Across: Communicating with People with Intellectual Disabilities