Plain English for assistants

Plain English for assistants

A few years ago I was working with a number of consultants who had been brought in to improve processes across our organisation. They were a great bunch of people but at times it was like they were speaking another language which was made up of business jargon that most of us couldn’t quite get to grips with. Along with all of the usual thinking outside of the boxes and looking for constant buy-in they also had code names for each project, talked endlessly about burning platforms, were always worried about moving parts. They seemed to spend most of their time taking things offline that is if they hadn’t already put a hard stop to it!

It was no surprise when my director asked us all to attend a training course run by the Plain English Campaign. Although it was a few years ago now and most of us have moved away from the cringeworthy business language used at the time I think it is worth bringing your attention to the useful free guides that the Plain English Campaign have on their website.

I’m not entirely convinced that we should all speak the basic English encouraged by the campaign, especially when most of us have spent years building up a good vocabulary. However the guides are really useful for those occasions when you need to write concisely, for example when you are editing minutes or writing reports. There is also a great guide on proofreading, which is something I am asked to do constantly in my current role.

While I am mentioning the Plain English guides there are a few other online tools I use to improve my writing and think other assistants will find useful too:

The visual thesaurus 

A useful thesaurus that displays the word you have selected in the middle of a circle with other alternative words around it. You can click on each word for a dictionary definition.


This website is an automatic proofreader. It allows you to drag and drop text onto their site and it will check for any grammatical errors.

Common Errors in English Usage

Use this site to avoid the most common mistakes in the English language – is it affect or effect? Is it advice or advise? (I use this website a lot!)

Acronym finder 

I’ve used this a few times in the past, particularly when working at a new company and I didn’t quite understand their abbreviations.

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