Plain English - Write Clear Business Emails & Documents

Plain English Writing – The Art of Communication
by Ian Nock
The purpose of writing is to communicate information effectively and, in todays busy working environment, quickly and efficiently. Today people have limited time to read emails and other business documents. By using Plain English you can ensure that your writing is clear and easily understood
Always remember the “3 C’s” :-
1. Deliver a
Clear message
2. Use
Correct grammar, vocabulary and punctuation
3. Be
  • Use short and simple words when possible e.g "buy" instead of "purchase". Remember the ideas is to deliver your message efficiently rather than impress your refer with the extent of your vocabulary.
  • Use simpler sentence structures with clear organisation to make your writing easier to read.
  • Avoid multiple included clauses so as not to confuse the reader.
  • Try to keep sentences shorter than 20 words and use paragraphs to structure your message.
  • Avoid cliches and legalese. These two are overused in business texts especially in Hong Kong. Some of these phrases do not add anything to your message and can be omitted:


at an early date
in due course
replace with the exact time or date
in the event that
prior to
please be advised that
in regard to
in terms of
for your information
thank you for your kind consideration
thank you
in the near future
soon or the exact time/date
take this opportunity
we regret to inform
as a matter of fact
we are in receipt of
we have received
last but not least
any and all
at the present time
due to the fact that
In point of fact

HKEnglish runs Business English Writing Courses in Hong Kong. You can combine Business Writing with any other topic e.g. Social English.

Apply now and start improving your English!

Legalese Vs Plain English

By Seth Heyman

Have you ever seen a contract that has this type of language?

"In the event that the Party of the First Part undertakes any act or effort whatsoever to extend such Party's rights hereunder beyond that reasonably contemplated by the Party of the Second Part under a restrictive interpretation said Party's understanding of their respective rights, duties, and obligations hereunder, the Party of the Second Part shall, upon provision of prior written notice to the Party of the First Part, be excused from any performance obligations hereunder to the extent that such performance obligations may indicate or express an agreement on the part of the Party of the Second Part to accept such extension of rights."

This bizarre, convoluted language has rightfully earned the name "legalese." Like any other language, it is rarely understood by anyone other than its native speakers (and sometimes not even then). Unlike any other language, however, the use of twisted legalese can lead to a costly court battle.

A Brief History of Legalese: How is it that people who are brought up speaking the same language as anyone else in their country come out of law school writing sentences that cannot be understood by anyone other than themselves? Many experts believe that legalese has its roots in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which lead to the Norman conquest of England. After the conquest, Norman French found its way into English courts. English lawyers were unsure as to whether a French word had the same meaning in English, and thus began to include both words in contracts to be on the safe side. This lead to phrases still in use today, such as "right, title, and interest," where "right" and "title" are English, and "interest" is French, and "breaking and entering," in which the English word "breaking" is paired with the French word "entering." This cross-channel linguistic mashup begat ever more convoluted phraseology as it was passed from generation to generation of lawyers.

The Rise of Plain English: Although legalese is a language unto itself, it was still widely used in contracts until the mid 1970's. Then, in 1975, attorneys for Citibank created the first "reader-friendly" consumer loan agreement by eliminating legalese and replacing it with shorter, more precise language, while at the same time adding numbered paragraphs and other aids to understanding. In the ensuing decades, contract law professors began to adopt the "Plain English" concept and taught it to their students. By the time the 90's rolled around, Plain English was even adopted as a requirement for certain consumer agreements in some states.

The benefit of using plain English is abundantly clear. When contracts are written in pure legalese, the parties that actually need to perform them may not understand their obligations. This results in an ambiguity in which one party to a contract interprets a confusing term differently then the other party, which in turn results in contractual disputes and litigation. So why do many lawyers still continue to incorporate legalese in contracts, despite the rise of plain English? There are basically three reasons why this practice continues:

- Tradition: The legal profession has a long and colorful history. Legalese is as much a tradition as the wigs and robes still used in English courts, and, like English lawyers, American attorneys are reluctant to abandon their treasured traditions.

- Laziness: When drafting contracts, many lawyers simply copy the language of earlier contracts. This practice has been undertaken by attorneys from the year 1066 to the present day, which means that some elements of legalese are simply passed on.

- Self-importance: It's important for an attorney to appear more educated and intelligent than the clients who hire them. Many continue to include legalese to impress their clients and justify high bills.

Here's a parting lesson: Read every contract before you sign it. If your contract includes bizarre and convoluted legalese that you can't easily understand, ask your attorney what it means. If he or she can't readily explain it, don't sign the contract, and hire a new attorney.

Avoiding legalese will not only help you understand your contractual obligations- it may also help you stay out of court. For more guidelines on contract law, visit

Article Source:

Plain English

The purpose of writing is to communicate information i.e. transferring your ideas to someone else clearly. Plain English could also be called "understandable and uncomplicated English" or "user-friendly English".

Ten Tips For Clearer Business Writing

  • Have you ever read an email or memo you did not understand? Have you had to read and read again the same paragraph to grasp its meaning? Do you worry that others may not be able to understand what your writing is about?
  • The purpose of any piece of writing is to communicate information to your readers. Here are 10 top tips to make your writing clearer and more understandable:
  • Plan your writing for your readers
  • Put the most important information at the beginning
  • Use short, understandable modern words instead of long, complicated old ones
  • Use short sentences
  • Get rid of unnecessary words, information and sentences
  • Avoid using jargon and technical terms
  • Don't use clichés such as "Please be advised that"
  • Use active verbs instead of the passive voice
  • Format information in lists and use bullet points
  • Insert tables and graphs into text rather than writing lengthy descriptions.

Also know your target audience. Who is going to read your writing and why? Do you know what is important to them?

Learn Business English Writing in Hong Kong - Apply Now

We use cookies to provide a better experience for you on our website. By continuing to browse this website you give your consent for cookies to be used. Please read our Cookie Policy for more details.