Plain Language Editing Instructions

___________ Plain Language Editing ___________


Plain Language editing makes texts easier to read, understand and use. We edit many kinds of texts, e.g. website text, brochures, speeches, video scripts, mobile applications, etc.

To be a good Plain Language editor, you should have a native or near-native level in the language of the target text. If you already have basic editing, writing and proofreading skills, that is great! Editors of all levels should follow the steps below, and use the Plain Language: Top 10 Tips for Scanning and Editing.

You should always ask yourself these 3 questions when editing:

  • Who is the target audience(s)?
  • What are the main messages? (that the target audience should understand)
  • In what context will the text be used?

Prioritise which Plain Language editing tips to use based on the answers.

Important! There are differences between Plain Language editing and Copy or Line Editing. There is much overlap, and some grey areas.

General Do’s and Don’ts

Here is a flexible list of Do’s and Don’t’s for Plain Language:


  • Put main messages first
  • Make sentences simpler
  • Change most passive phrases into active phrases
  • Use common words; only use complex or domain-specific words (jargon) when it helps the reader
  • Change long, narrative lists into bulleted or numbered lists
  • Use basic design and format tools (font effects, white space)
  • Follow a style guide, if requested and provided


  • Change ideas or arguments to make a concept stronger or clearer
  • Shift entire sections around
  • Completely re-do infographics
  • Define domain-specific words on your own – cite a trusted source
  • Proofread the entire text (only areas you work on). Tell authors if a document needs proofreading.
  • Change the style or tone (unless you have been asked to on a short text such as a poster, brochure, etc.)

Reference Material

There are two key documents to refer to:

There are many other online sources, such as:

More references in other languages beyond English are coming soon.


If you have any questions or need anything, please do not hesitate to contact your Project Officer. They are happy to help out!


The Project Officer who assigned this task is to provide you with:

  • Request Summary
  • Original text file(s) (usually called “Source Files”)
  • Plain Language Pre-Editing Report with Recommendations (which includes the Editing Profile Questionnaire (EPQ) from the partner).
  • Reference material: style guide, glossary, recommendations, etc.


These instructions are in 4 Steps:

  1. The Basics: Find out basic facts about the text
  2. Pre-editing: Do an initial scan of the text
  3. Editing: Use editing tips to improve the text
  4. Post-editing: Send edited text back with notes

(1) The Basics

Find out basic facts about the text:

  • Expectations: are you clear on expectations? For example:
    • The turnaround time (TAT)?
    • What and how much to edit?
    • Can you leave Comments?
    • Where should you save or send the final version(s)?
    • Who is your main focal point? And backup in case they are out?
  • Read the Pre-Edit Report with Recommendations (with Editing Profile Questionnaire (EPQ) from partner).
  • If there is no audience or context info on the Pre-Edit Report, ask your focal point. Also ask them:
    • Style guide: is there a style guide you need to follow?
    • Partner: anything to know about this partner or the relationship with them? e.g. was there critical feedback on past edits, is this text a high-stake one?
    • Suite: Is this text part of a bigger set of documents?
    • Glossaries: Any glossaries to help you, e.g. PSEA glossary in plain language

Know your limits. If you realize that this job is too big for you or too far out of your comfort zone, please let your focal point know immediately.

(2) Pre-editing

Before you begin, scan the text to check for areas that may need special attention! For example, look at how information is organised, sentence length, terminology, formatting, infographics, and design.

Use the info in the Pre-Editing Report with Recommendations and Editing Profile Questionnaire to guide your scan… They help you know what to look for.

Here are Plain Language: Top 10 Tips for Scanning and Editing.

Important! Sometimes after the scan, you may need to ask the focal point more questions.

(3) Editing

Based on scanning, and the Pre-Editing Report with Recommendations and the Editing Profile Questionnaire, you should plan your editing before you begin.

Ask yourself before editing:

  • How much time do you have to edit? How will you budget your time?
  • What are the top priority areas to improve? And the second most important?

Important! Always check your work for consistency.

(4) Post-editing

For all requests, create a “clean copy” by accepting all changes and keeping comments in. FYI: we remove your name from changes and comments to protect your privacy…

Send/upload the document(s) where your focal point told you to. You can include comments for the author on topics like: terminology, structure and design. You can also share why you have/have not changed items based on audiences and context.

Your learning: we encourage you to ask the focal point for the Post-Edit Report and general feedback! You can get feedback from focal points, the partner, or the Plain Language Expert at CLEAR Global.