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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Kayler

The power of simplicity: How the ISO Plain Language Standard is revolutionizing communication

In a world overflowing with information, clarity is king. And now, such clarity is being applied to the language we use by the organization that is known for standardization.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has long been recognized for setting global benchmarks in quality and safety across various industries, from manufacturing to design and construction. For example, many in our industry are familiar with ISO standards, such as those for quality management (ISO 9001) and environmental management (ISO 14001), as they play crucial roles in setting global benchmarks for best practices across various industries. Now, ISO has tackled one of the most vital aspects of our information-rich society—communication—through the introduction of the ISO Plain Language Standard.


Developed by Technical Committee ISO/TC 37, Language and terminology, WG 11, Plain Language, the ISO Plain Language Standard is a groundbreaking step towards enhancing the accessibility and understandability of written content. This initiative is not just about simplifying language; it's about redefining communication to prioritize the reader's needs and comprehension. The standard emphasizes four key principles to achieve its goal:

  1. Relevance: Ensuring the information meets the readers' needs.

  2. Findability: Making it easy for readers to find what they need.

  3. Understandability: Making the content easy to understand.

  4. Usability: Ensuring readers can use the information effectively.


These principles are built on the premise that for a document to be genuinely usable, its content must be relevant, findable, understandable, and thus, actionable. In essence, the ISO Plain Language Standard redefines how we communicate by aligning written content with the cognitive patterns and practical needs of readers. This cultural shift towards simplicity is more than a trend—it's a necessary evolution in how we share information in an increasingly complex world. As more organizations and industries adopt these principles, the long-term benefits are poised to be transformative, fostering a more informed, efficient, and inclusive global society.


The Benefits

Adopting plain language according to ISO standards comes with a host of benefits for both communicators and readers. Evidence has shown that writing in plain language can save time and money for both readers and organizations, while also leading to better outcomes. A clear example of its impact can be seen in the healthcare sector, where the use of plain language in patient information leaflets has led to improved medication adherence and patient outcomes.


Cutting through the clutter also is a key consideration. In today’s age of information overload, the ability to communicate effectively has become more critical than ever. Readers are often decision-makers, evaluators, or individuals seeking to act on the information provided. They come with their own sets of pain points, roles, and expectations. The ISO Plain Language Standard acknowledges this diversity and offers a framework to address it directly, promoting a shift from traditional, often convoluted communication styles to a more reader-centered approach. Companies that have embraced plain language report higher customer trust and loyalty. It's a strategic move towards building trust and improving engagement with their audience. By making information more accessible, companies can significantly reduce the time and resources spent on clarifying misunderstandings, not to mention the efficiency gains in translating documents into other languages.


For readers, the impact is equally substantial. Plain language not only enhances comprehension but also democratizes access to information. People of all backgrounds and educational levels can benefit from materials written in plain language, thereby fostering greater inclusivity. Moreover, in critical fields such as healthcare, legal services, and public administration, the clarity brought by the ISO Plain Language Standard can be a matter of significant consequence.

Additionally, this shift towards plain language is also beneficial in the digital age. As more content migrates to online platforms, ensuring that web pages, digital forms, and mobile applications are easy to navigate and understand is crucial. The standard helps bridge the digital divide, making sure information is not only readily available but also easily digestible for a broad audience.


Implementing the ISO Plain Language Standard

Implementing the ISO Plain Language Standard within an organization involves more than just rewriting documents—it requires a cultural shift towards valuing clarity and reader engagement. Here are some strategic steps to help organizations transition:

  • Training and Awareness: First and foremost, raising awareness and providing training on the principles of plain language is crucial. Workshops, webinars, and e-learning modules can be effective methods for educating staff about the ISO Plain Language Standard. Employees should be encouraged to think from the reader's perspective, focusing on how their content will be understood and used.

  • Document Review and Revision: Organizations should conduct a thorough review of their existing documents, identifying areas where complex language can be simplified. This process might involve creating a plain language task force or appointing plain language champions within each department. These individuals can lead the effort to revise documents, ensuring they align with the standard's principles of relevance, findability, understandability, and usability.

  • Ongoing Monitoring and Feedback: To ensure sustained compliance with the standard, organizations should establish mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and feedback. This could involve regular audits of written materials, surveys to gauge reader comprehension and satisfaction, and feedback loops where readers can comment on the clarity of the information provided. Incorporating this feedback can drive continuous improvement.

  • Technology and Tools: Leveraging technology can also facilitate the implementation of plain language principles. This might include using software tools that highlight complex language, readability scores, and formatting issues. Templates and style guides tailored to the ISO Plain Language Standard can provide a consistent framework for creating new documents.

  • Leadership and Commitment: Successful implementation requires commitment from the top levels of the organization. Leaders should model the use of plain language in their communications and actively promote the standard's adoption. By embedding plain language practices into the organizational culture, companies can ensure that the benefits of clear, accessible communication are realized across all levels.


By taking these strategic steps, organizations can effectively adopt the ISO Plain Language Standard, leading to clearer communication, greater inclusivity, and improved outcomes. The journey towards plain language is one of continuous learning and adaptation, but the rewards—in terms of reader satisfaction and organizational efficiency—are well worth the effort.


the customer experience but also reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and disputes.

This standard is more than a guideline for simplifying language; it's a tool for empowerment, enabling readers to get what they need, find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information to take action—all ideally, at the first reading.


Getting Started

Whether you’re drafting an internal report, creating content for your website, or communicating with stakeholders, applying the principles of plain language can dramatically boost the effectiveness of your communication. To further guide you on this transformative journey, reach out to AOE. Our expert team can provide you with the insights and tools needed to implement the ISO Plain Language Standard successfully in your organization. Don't miss this opportunity to enhance your communication practices—contact AOE today!


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