Plain English for Editors

Who is this course suitable for?

This course is ideal for any editor who would like to achieve a broad understanding of what plain English is for, the core guidelines, techniques and tools, and how to use them in a balanced and nuanced way. You will need an understanding of English grammar and of copyediting generally.

Course description

The course explains what plain English is, gives you the skills to use guidelines on plain-English editing with thought and care, and helps you to think through how to market your services and deal with challenges.

  • Unit 1 introduces plain English. It gets you thinking about what can make a text unclear and what causes the problems you are likely to find in ‘unplain’ text. It also provides some background about the plain-English movement and how it has developed more recently in various English-speaking countries.
  • Unit 2 sets out the six core guidelines for plain-English editing. This is the largest unit in the course and it contains separate notes and exercises for each guideline.
  • Unit 3 gives you a longer text on which to practise the skills you learned in Units 1 and 2.
  • Unit 4 explains how tools in Word and other software can help to speed up some plain-English editing tasks and increase accuracy. It also sets out their limitations.
  • Unit 5 looks at some of the practicalities of providing plain-English editing services.

What you should know after the course

By the end of the course you will . . .

  • understand what plain English is and where to use it
  • understand the core guidelines for editing into plain English
  • know where to find the tools to help you
  • know how to apply the skills you have acquired
  • have some ideas for creating a business plan for your plain-English editing service.
Curriculum snapshot

Availability, prices and upgrade points

Price (members)  
Price (non-members)  
CIEP upgrade points 4
  Book now  

Other price discounts are available. See the fees page.

E-learning courses take between 10 and 45 hours to complete, depending on the course, but you have access to the course materials for 6 months.

Prices are exclusive of tax, which will be added automatically at your local rate at checkout.

E-learning course structure

Time allowed for access: 6 months CIEP upgrade points: 4
Approximate study time needed to complete the course: 30–35 hours

This is a self-assessed course. You will be assigned a tutor who will be available for up to 1 hour of support (usually by email), but the tutor does not mark any of your work. When you have finished the course you can download and print a certificate which states that you have completed the course.


The course is divided into five units:

  • Unit 1 What can make a text unclear?
  • Unit 2 Guidelines and techniques
  • Unit 3 Test your plain-English editing skills
  • Unit 4 Tools for plain-English editing
  • Unit 5 Services and challenges

Each of the five units (except Unit 3) is divided into sections:

  1. What can make a text unclear?
    1.1 If plain English is the answer, what’s the question?
    1.2 Background and resources
  2. Guidelines and techniques
    2.1 Keep sentences to a manageable length
    2.2 Edit for conciseness and directness
    2.3 Check grammar and punctuation but put clarity first
    2.4 Use words that readers know
    2.5 Check that the language is inclusive
    2.6 Make sure that the material is organised and laid out clearly
    2.7 Further plain-English considerations and guidelines round-up
    2.8 Quiz
  1. Test your plain-English editing skills
  2. Tools for plain-English editing
    4.1 Tools in Microsoft Word
    4.2 PerfectIt
    4.3 Other programs designed to help people write clearly
  3. Services and challenges
    5.1 Providing plain-English services
    5.2 Challenges and myths

Each section includes study notes and a commentary on the exercises, with examples and model answers where appropriate. There are 26 exercises throughout the course, giving you plenty of practice at honing your skills.

Book now All courses