20 words to avoid – if you want to write in plain English

What words are 'plain English' and what words are not? The basic rule is to use everyday words that your target audience is familiar with.
Photo of Albert Einstein
Photo of Albert Einstein

Everyone can read and understand more easily when you use everyday words. If you’re writing for a wide audience, it’s particularly important to use words that your intended audience is familiar with.

And research shows that highly educated readers prefer plain English too – possibly because it’s quicker to scan and read.

One problem with using unfamiliar words is that people might have different definitions, so they could misunderstand your message. For example, some people think that ‘optimum’ means ‘first’ instead of ‘best’ or ‘most favourable’. Here are some suggestions for words to avoid:

Instead of . . .   Try using . . .
Ascertain   learn / check / find out / make certain
Assist   help
Prior to   before
Additional   more / extra
Commence   begin
Regarding   about
Determine   decide
Implement   carry out / do
Initially   first
Comply with   follow
In the event that   if
In lieu of    instead of
Rectify    fix
Require   must / need
Without further delay   immediately
Verify    check
Utilise    use
Ensure    make sure
Notify    tell / inform
Modify    change

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