5 Tips to Simplify Academic Writing for General Audiences

As a researcher, you communicate your work to a wide variety of people daily. Besides engaging in jargon-rich discussions with your peers, you might share your research on a personal website, talk about it at a community event, or write about it on social media. Plain language can help you reach beyond academia and ensure your work is accessible to a broader, more general audience. Here are a few tips to get you started.

      1. Make it concise. Consider paring down unnecessary words and redundant phrases. For example, at this point in time becomes now; deliver a report becomes report. We recommend this list of unnecessary words and phrases.
      2. Use simple words. Plain language encourages us to simplify and shorten. When editing, look for words that are more than two syllables. Swap words such as utilize, demonstrate, and initiate for their simplified counterparts — use, show, and start.
      3. Break text into lists. Lists highlight important content for the reader, such as treatment side effects and risks. They also help create white space (areas free from text and images), making your document easier to read. Follow The Plain Language Action and Information Network’s guidelines for using lists.
      4. Avoid terms with multiple meanings. We often use words differently in academia than in casual conversation. For example, most people associate the word novel with a type of book, not something new. When communicating with general audiences, it’s best to remove these terms. Check out this list for scientific words and phrases to avoid.
      5. Write in active voice. Active voice clearly states the action and who is doing the action, whereas passive voice often leads to confusion. Not sure if you’re using passive voice? Use the Hemingway Editor to check.

If you would still like help simplifying your message, reach out to Becker Library for a free Plain Language Review.