The most effective response to stress, concern, worries, and fear is to engage in dialogue.

But people in risk situations have trouble understanding and retaining information, so it’s important to communicate with plain language.

What Is Plain Language?

Plain language ensures an audience understands what you’re saying or writing as quickly and as easily as possible.

Plain language increases readership by making the language available to a wider audience. Plain language also increases accessibility for marginalized populations.

In a risk, high-concern, or crisis situation, plain language can lessen an audience’s cognitive load. In a situation where someone is desperate for potentially life-saving information, the last thing they want is to sort through complicated or jargon-filled language.

Five Quick Suggestions for Writing in Plain Language

There are a wealth of tips for writing in plain language, so this is something you’ll want to explore.

In addition to organizing your material in a logical manner and using subheads as guide markers for the reader, the following are five things that can immediately make your writing more accessible:

Write short sentences.

Long, complicated sentences can obstruct meaning. Write in short, direct sentences to get your meaning across.

Use words consistently.

Don’t rename items for variety. If you refer to the same thing in different ways, readers may stumble. Be consistent.

Say what you have to say and no more.

You don’t want your readers to get distracted and lose focus on your message. Cut unnecessary detail and stick to your main messages.

Use subject-verb-object (SVO) order.

She (subject) hit (verb) the ball (object). In English, SVO helps understanding, so try to order your sentences with this in mind.

Rewrite negatives as positives.

Readers have more trouble processing negative statements, so avoid those “not”s and write in positives when possible.

Pathway Prompt: Keep an eye out for pieces of text that could be clearer. How would you rewrite that text in plain language?

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication. This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice.

More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books. Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.