A few years ago I was working with some 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 understand. 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’, they 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 cringe-worthy business language used at that 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 handy 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 consistently 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.

Plain English for Assistants

Free 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, mainly when working at a new company and I didn’t quite understand their abbreviations.

PA Essentials

We have a brilliant course that will teach you how all of the PA essentials. With eleven brilliant sessions over almost four hours, all focusing on the essential elements of the Assistant role. Although the Assistant role is exceptionally varied there are many skills that are important for every assistant. In this online course, we have selected sessions that will support assistants to improve the most common but also the most important of tasks. To book your place on our online course just follow this link, for only £30.

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