A key objective for CXC is to make research accessible to a broad audience – particularly across public policy and for others who need this evidence to make decisions. In this blog, CXC Knowledge Exchange Manager Anne Marte Bergseng sets out why we have worked to achieve the Plain English Campaign’s Website Crystal Mark.
Plain language means writing and designing outputs so that it is easy for the intended audience to find, understand and use information. Across both academia and government organisations, this can be a challenge.
In practice, a lack of plain language means the reader spends longer reading a text and may miss or misunderstand key information. A lack of accessible research evidence was one of the challenges ClimateXChange and the other Scottish Government Centres of Expertise were set up to tackle.
Clear - concise - actionable
Our audience is time poor, and comprises policy specialists rather than science specialists. This is why we strive to keep our outputs concise and written in plain language. Working with our research providers, we focus on ways to make texts accessible and actionable on first read. The reader should be able to skim our reports and understand:
- What is the problem/issue/challenge?
- Why does it matter?
- What can be done?
Communicating highly technical and complex climate change research in jargon-free, easy-to-read language is not straightforward, and it needs to be a focus in each individual project.
Achieving the Crystal Mark
Plain English training has been part of our offer to our researchers for a number of years, and all our reports are reviewed for clarity and accessibility. In the last year, we have worked with the Plain English Campaign to achieve its Website Crystal Mark - we are proud that the website you are reading has made the grade.
A Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark-approved website is not just about the language; the review also covers accessibility, design, content and navigation. The reviewer looks for:
- information that is easy to read and understand;
- design that helps, rather than hinders, the visitor;
- information that is easy to find; and
- whether the site contain the information people could reasonably expect to find.
Writing for our audience
Plain language has considering the audience at its core – communicating with them as they would communicate with themselves. Our reports and our website are written for policy colleagues in the Scottish Government, rather than directly aimed at the general public. This means we assume some prior knowledge of Scottish climate change legislation and policy.
The key challenge is presenting research methodology and outcomes simply and accessibly, and to bring out the ‘so what’ from the research findings – how can the evidence inform climate change actions in Scotland? With this in mind, we hope our efforts also mean that ClimateXChange research is accessible to a wider audience – e.g. across the public sector, in NGOs and businesses, and students and academics.
We aim to be a practical, constructive and inclusive partner for those developing climate policy in Scotland. The way we write and present our research should never be a barrier to joining the conversation. Achieving, and in the years to come keeping, the Plain English Crystal Mark is one way to demonstrate our commitment.
Top tips for writing Plain English
- Keep it short: 15-20 words in a sentence. Most commas can be replaced by a full stop.
- Use active verbs. E.g. say ‘Government will review the plan next year’ rather than the passive construction ‘A review of the plan will be undertaken by Government next year’
- Use sub-headings and bullet points to make the text easy to skim. This is particularly important for text that will be read on screen.
Read more about the Plain English Campaign
Read more about our approach to communicating research to a policy audience