If you’re like us, you’re probably already familiar with – and possibly addicted to – the web-based sensation Wordle.

Surfacing in late 2021, the game is the brainchild of Josh Wardle, a Welsh software engineer living in New York. Wardle and his partner, word enthusiast Palak Shah, had exhausted their enthusiasm for crosswords and spelling bees during lockdown and were craving something more. In the interest of household harmony, Wardle dug out a prototype for a word game he tinkered with back in 2013 and developed it into what we now call Wordle.

The New York Times has since bought the game, reportedly for a six-figure sum.

It requires players to type a five-letter word into a grid to figure out the Word of the Day. Once a player has entered their first word, each letter changes colour: green if it’s the right letter in the right place; yellow if it’s the right letter in the wrong place; and grey if it’s not in the Word of the Day. Participants get six chances to discover the Word of the Day.

Players can only enter five-letter words, of which there are almost 160,000 in the English language – making it the most common word length in most dictionaries.

Surely this is a sign that shorter, simpler words resonate more effectively.

Consider the following long words and short alternatives. Which conveys the message best?

Long word                       Short alternative

acquire                            get

duplicate                         copy

finalise                             end

fundamental                  basic

objective                         aim

purchase                         buy

request                            ask

It can be tempting to use long, sophisticated words or jargon in business writing. But like short words, plain English engages readers more readily.

Plain English can be defined as communicating in a way the audience can understand the first time they read or hear text. It is clear, succinct and doesn’t use buzzwords. Plain English is easy to comprehend and to translate into other languages, which makes it the most logical option when writing for businesses or government.

The same applies for sentences. A message is communicated more effectively when the sentence is short and simple.

Research has shown that when reading sentences of eight words or less, audiences understand 100 per cent of a story. At 14 words, they take in 90 per cent, and at 43 words, this drops to less than 10 per cent.

When it comes to writing sentences in plain English, the principle is to have only one idea per sentence. Reading long, busy sentences can be like listening to someone talking without stopping to draw breath. It’s rarely a comfortable experience for the reader.

The Plain English campaign provided a great example of an overloaded sentence and the same information rewritten for clarity and simplicity.

High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

As Wardle has said, the charm of Wordle is its simplicity and accessibility. The game is free and available to all. There are no pop-ups promoting upgrades or nudging you to play again. And there are no ads.

The same can be recommended for business writing: keep it simple, accessible and free of gimmicks.

By Bronwyn Hardy


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How to use the principles of plain English to improve your writing

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