Using plain English

Everything we produce should be written in plain English as described in the GOV.UK plain English guidelines.


  • Write short sentences that are no longer than 20-25 words
  • Include only one main idea in each paragraph
  • Establish a conversational tone by imagining you are speaking to someone
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms and impersonal corporate language
  • Use simple words rather than their longer equivalent: 'If' not 'in the event that'
  • Don't try to include every single detail - only write what readers need to know
  • Write in the active, not passive voice. A hit B is more direct than B was hit by A
  • Ask yourself: Will your audience understand your message or can it be simplified further?
  • Don't be afraid to give clear instructions: 'Please send it to us' is more direct than 'I would be grateful if you would please send it to us'
  • Use bullets and vertical lists to break up text and make information more accessible
  • Use sub-headings to present information in a logical manner
  • When including hyperlinks in electronic documents, don't mention that you are providing a link (ie 'click here). Instead, describe the information you are linking to or just include the link address: more information can be found at
  • Include images to illustrate ideas and make content more reader-friendly
  • Keep your readers in mind. Remember, if you're bored or confused by what you've written, they probably will be too 

Writing for online

People visit our website to get something done or to answer a question. They are impatient and will leave a page quickly if they can't see at a glance what they are looking for or don't understand it.

Don't waste time with long introductions. Be direct and specific in what you need to tell people. Use short paragraphs, clear headlines and sub heads, bulleted lists and words and phrases people are likely to search for.

Put the most important information first and only include information that is essential.

Mobile first

We've designed our website to work on most devices, whatever their size, because an increasing number of people use our site on mobile. Our aim is to make the most important information visible on the first screen.

Jargon and legalese

Simplicity is the key to understanding. Short words in short sentences get your message across more quickly, more easily and in a friendlier way.

Note: Some legal terms have specific legal meanings or implications that may be lost if replaced with plain English alternatives. If you have any questions about the use of legal terms, please contact TfL Legal

Instead of Use
accede agree, allow
accordingly so
accustomed to used to
ad hoc informal, unplanned
additional more, extra
approximately about
ascertain learn, discover
assist, assistance help
attain reach
attempt try
bona fide good faith, genuine, honest
cease stop, end
commence start, begin
component part
concerning about
consequently so
constitute make up, form
defer postpone
determine decide
discontinue stop
enable allow, permit
endeavour try
establish set up, create, find out
et al and the others, the rest
ex gratia without obligation
expire/expiration end
forthwith immediately, now (state a time limit)
forward send, give
further and better particulars requests for information
generate make
grant give
henceforth from now on
in camera in private
initially at first
institute begin, start
inter alia among other things
manufacture make
minor/infant child
modify change
notify tell
numerous many
obtain get, receive
per annum a year
possesses has, owns
purchase buy
regarding about, on
request ask
subsequently later
terminate end, stop
utilise use
verify check, prove

Superfluous words and phrases

Another way to save time and avoid confusion is to get rid of unnecessary words. Information can often be made simpler - and less corporate - if words that either add nothing or mean the same thing are replaced with simpler alternatives.

Instead of Use
a large proportion of many
appropriate measures measures, steps
at this moment in time now
by virtue of the fact that because
close scrutiny scrutiny
consensus of opinion consensus
despite the fact that although, despite
due to the fact that as, because
for the duration of during, while
for the purpose of to
future plans plans
in accordance with as, in line with
in conjunction with and, with
in the absence of without
in the event that if
in order to to
in the majority of most, usually
leaves much to be desired poor
on account of the fact that because
on behalf of for
revert back revert
rolled out introduced
the fact that that
was of the opinion that thought
with the exception of except
with reference/regard/respect to about, concerning

Frequently misused words

Words that sound very similar can mean very different things. Here is a list of frequently misused words. If you are not confident about their meaning, look them up or use an alternative.

Instead of Use
affect effect
alternate alternative
appraise apprise
biannual biennial
complementary complimentary
continual continuous
dependent dependant
discreet discrete
disinterested uninterested
distinctive distinguished
enquiry inquiry
explicit implicit
flounder founder
flout flaunt
fortuitous fortunate
individualism individuality
inflammable inflammatory
licence license
loathe loath
luxuriant luxurious
meter metre
peddle pedal
practice practise
practical practicable
principle principal
refute rebut
regretful regrettable
resistant resilient
stationary stationery
systematic systemic

Accessibility for print

  • Type size
    Use a minimum of 12pt for all printed documents. Where possible, use 14pt as this increases the accessibility documents to visually impaired readers
  • Type styles
    Avoid using italics or all capital letters as these make it more difficult for visually impaired readers to recognise word shapes. Underlining should also be avoided to prevent confusion with hyperlinks
  • Reverse type
    If using white or coloured type, make sure the background colour is dark enough to provide good contrast
  • Text alignment
    Text should be left aligned. Avoid justifying text as irregular word spacing can make it more difficult to read. Variable spacing can also make text appear distorted
  • Sentence spacing
    Use a single space at the beginning of sentences as double spaces make text more difficult to read. Variable spacing can also make text appear distorted
  • Line length
    The ideal line length is between 60-70 characters (except when using columns) as very long or very short lines tire the eyes and make reading more difficult
  • Hyphens and split words
    Don't split words over lines because it disrupts the reading flow and can also be confusing
  • Navigational aids
    Leave a space between paragraphs and sections as dividing the text up gives the eye a break and makes reading easier
  • Contrast
    The better the contrast between the background and the text, the more legible the text will be. Black text on a white background provides the best contrast
  • Images
    Don't place text over images as it can be both easy to miss and difficult to read 

Useful books and websites

There are lots of books and websites on using English. This list includes some of the most helpful. It also includes useful reference guides, including dictionaries, encyclopaedias, maps and conversion calculators.