Write in plain English

Your writing must be easy to read, understand and concise by using:

  • plain language and keywords
  • short sentences and bullet points
  • an active voice
  • a logical order
  • step-by-step lists where appropriate
  • links to relevant pages and external sites - read more about links in the A to Z guide.

Plain language and keywords

Your writing should:

  • include ‘you’ and ‘your’
  • be conversational
  • be gender neutral
  • be clear and to the point by choosing short words – for example:
    • ‘free’ instead of ‘fully subsidised’
    • 'like' instead of 'such as'
    • ‘should’ instead of ‘recommended’
    • ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’
    • ‘can’ instead of ‘may be able to’
    • ‘can get’ instead of ‘may be eligible for’.

Northern Territory (NT) residents are unfamiliar with government structure and terminology. Delete wherever possible.

Think about how NT residents would describe the information and include those keywords. Only include longer official names of things if you must.

Short sentences

Keep sentences short - up to about 20 words - and simple. Start sentences with an action rather than the aim.

As you write your sentence, picture yourself telling this information to a person on the street.

If you are unsure about how to shorten a sentence, put a full stop where a comma or 'and' is and start a new sentence. This will help to keep your message succinct.

Example 1:

Submit your ideas on how to reduce the red tape burden on business and the community at www.cuttingredtape.nt.gov.au

X The Northern Territory government is calling on Territorians to log onto a new website and submit their ideas about ways to further reduce the red tape burden on businesses and the community.

Example 2:

Apply now for the grant program.

X Applications are open for the grant program.

Bullet points make pages easier to scan. Read more about using bullet points in the A to Z guide.

Active voice

Begin your sentences with the subject - the person or thing that is doing the action.

In this example the school is the subject of the sentence:

The school asked the Chief Minister to open the new building.

X The Chief Minister was asked by the school to open the new building.

Stop yourself if you are about to start a sentence with 'In order to'. The sentence is the wrong way round – the why should not come before the action or the subject of the sentence.

Example 1:

Find out how to save electricity in your home at www.powerwater.com.au

X In order to help householders save electricity, a website has been created to encourage electricity-saving practices in NT homes.

Example 2:

An education program is part of the government's remote housing policy.

X In order to implement the government’s remote housing policy, an education program has been established.

Write in a logical order

You must write your information in the order it happens – eg:

✔ If you are a builder you must send your application form and supporting documents to the government.

X Send your application form and supporting documents to the government if you are a builder.

✔ First you have to submit your application. You can then apply to register your business.

X You can apply to register your business after you have first submitted your application form.

Step-by-step guides

Use step-by-step guides to help the reader through a process.

This is helpful for the user if they must complete something or prepare something before applying for a service or grant.

Read more about this in the A to Z guide.

Legislation

Do not quote directly from legislation.

You should also avoid using the name of the legislation or regulation where possible.

Instead say “Under Northern Territory law, you must …” or “It is against the law to ….”.

At the end of the sentence you can then write ‘Read the law’ and hyperlink to the relevant legislation or regulation.

See the example on the NT.GOV.AU Discrimination page.

Last updated: 19 September 2017