Plain English – Words that Work

Welcome to our short course Plain English – Words that work. Not everyone enjoys writing, but the good news is that everyone can be taught how to write well. That is our job, and we are looking forward to showing you one of the best ways to quickly improve your writing – by using plain English.

Public Sector Network · 28 February 2022


Every government style guide tells you to use plain English in your writing. And the most important principle of plain English is to use simple words. Your job isn’t to impress your reader by showing off a big vocabulary. Using long fancy words makes your document hard to understand and is likely to annoy your reader rather than impress them. Your job is to use the shortest and simplest words that will get the job done.

So why does so much government writing use complex language? In this course, we’ll look at why this occurs, and help you to break this habit.

Learning objectives

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • choose the best words to make your point
  • avoid common misused words
  • correctly use technical language and abbreviations.

Course outline

This is a short course comprising five sections:

  • Choosing the best word. In this section we will look at how good word choice helps you make your point. We will discuss some common mistakes made by writers and show you how to avoid these mistakes.
  • Misused words. English is a complex language, with many words that sound similar but have different meanings. This makes spelling tricky, and you can’t always rely on your spellchecker to get it right. We’ll show you how to cut through this problem with a guide to common misspelt words.
  • Technical language, jargon and abbreviations. Government writing is often about complex topics with their own technical language and jargon. We’ll discuss when it is ok to use technical language and jargon, as well as when to use abbreviations and how to use them.
  • Fake verbs and other bad habits. Government writing is infested with long-winded phrases and empty words. We’ll highlight some examples, and teach you a simple technique to spot them and fix them.
  • Bring it all together. The last section uses a short case study to apply all the learnings from the course.

Most people take about two hours to complete this course. You will receive a course certificate on completion.


To celebrate the launch of the Academy we are offering free access to the first lesson of this training material. View the first lesson of Plain English – Words that Work below.

English is a complex language, with more than 600,000 words in it. But you don’t need to use all of them.

Most adults have a vocabulary of 30,000 to 40,000 words. These are words they recognise, although they don’t always know the correct meaning of these words, and they certainly don’t use all of them.

At work, we only use around 5,000 words on a regular basis. Let’s look at what happens when we use words outside these 5,000 favourites.


At the end of the course, we will ask you to complete a survey. The survey is anonymous and will help us improve the course.

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Course Includes

  • 8 Lessons
  • 7 Quizzes
  • Course Certificate