Active Teaching Lab Recap: Plain Language and Syllabi Design

Wed December 2, 2020

At the December 02, 2020 Active Teaching Lab, we looked at using plain language to make syllabi, schedules, and course policies clear, concise, and simple.

12 Principles for Plain Language

Plain language is clear, concise, organized, and appropriate for the intended audience.

  1. Write for your reader, not yourself.
  2. Use pronouns when you can.
  3. State your major point(s) first before going into details.
  4. Stick to your topic. 
  5. Limit each paragraph to one idea and keep it short. 
  6. Write in active voice. Use the passive voice only in rare cases.
  7. Use short sentences as much as possible.
  8. Use everyday words. If you must use technical terms, explain them on the first reference.
  9. Omit unneeded words.
  10. Keep the subject and verb close together.
  11. Use headings, lists, and tables to make reading easier. 
  12. Proofread your work, and have a colleague proof it as well.

To learn more and discover new resources, visit the session’s activity sheet.


Grounded in inclusive learning, infused with research, and connecting to the Wisconsin Experience, Active Teaching Labs help you learn more about teaching tools and equitable practices, and hear how UW-Madison instructors motivate, engage, and more effectively teach the diverse range of students we encounter.

Find out more about Active Teaching Labs here.