The Office of Information Technology prefers using plain language for all communications. Plain language is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and overly-complex sentence construction. It is not baby talk, nor is it a simplified version of the English language. It is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.
When preparing communication materials, ask yourself these questions:
- Will the reader understand what they need to do or learn by reading this communication?
- Are the writing, tone and presentation appropriate for the audience?
Style or Voice
- Does it follow plain writing principles? (for example, shortish sentences, active voice and no hidden verbs)
- Does it feel credible and sincere?
- Do the tone, choice of words and conversational style convey respect for the audience?
- Does it avoid jargon?
Structure and Content
- Is the content presented in an order that tells a story or helps audiences complete a task?
- Does the communication convey only needed content while removing unnecessary details?
- Does it provide relevant information in a balanced way, without overselling or underselling the points to be made?
- Are the communication sections clearly organized and labeled?
- Will the labels help the audience predict what is in each section?
- Are there effective transitions between sentences, paragraphs and sections?
Information Design and Navigation
- Does the typography, color and whitespace grab and guide the audiences’ attention?
- Does the layout and presentation make the communication easy to scan?
- Can you tell by glancing where the important information or action is?
Pictures, Graphics and Charts
- Do pictures, graphics and/or charts support the content?
- Will the audience understand the intent of the picture, graphic or chart?
- Do the visuals help the audience better understand important points or guide them on how to take important steps?
- Conversely: Are the visuals included only as decoration? Or would the communication be easier to understand if more or different graphics were used?
Texas A&M System Preferred Uses and Style Exceptions
Referencing the A&M System
First Reference: Use “The Texas A&M University System” with a capital “T” in “the”
Subsequent References: Use “the A&M System” or “Texas A&M System”
Referencing A&M System Members
When listing the A&M System’s institutions, agencies and the health science center, always use the institution’s complete name on first reference and its preferred acronym or abbreviation on second reference.
When communicating internally, you do not need to use the word ‘system’ before ‘member’; we are all ‘members’ (including system offices) of the same system.
See http://www.tamus.edu/marcomm/written-style-guidelines/ for more information.
Referencing the System Offices
The offices in the Moore/Connally building should be referred to as “System Offices.” “System Offices” take a plural verb.
Always use lower case for “system” and “member” unless they are used at the beginning of a sentence.
This section provides guidelines to be followed when using commas, colons, semicolons, greater than symbols, hyphens, periods, quotation marks and slashes.
Do not use a comma before the conjunction in a series of items
- For example: apples, bananas and pears
Do not place a comma before “and” when joining two direct commands
- For example: Press the # key and enter the PIN number
Use one space after a comma
Use a comma rather than a semicolon to separate two or more, short, parallel independent clauses:
- For example: the number increases, the order quantity decreases, and the screen displays new data
Colons & Semicolons
Use a colon to introduce a formal statement, extract or quotation
- If the statement following the colon is a complete sentence, the first letter of the statement should be uppercase
- If the initial sentence is not a complete sentence, the first letter of the statement should be lowercase
Use a colon to introduce a list or series but not if the list or series is introduced with such phrases as “For example, fields a, b and c are required”
Use one space after a colon
Avoid semicolons, if possible
Use one space after a semicolon, when necessary
Use a hyphen in a compound modifier, two or more words that express a single concept and modify the noun that follows
- For example: third-party payer
Use hyphens to avoid duplicated vowels or tripled consonants in such words as pre-approved, etc.
Use one space after a period
Never user periods at the end of a bulleted list
Quotation marks should be used sparingly
Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks
Quotation marks should not be used to call out information that should be typed into a text field
Place an extra space around slashes. For example: access / login