Expert copyeditor shares her top tips on writing for a global audience

In brief: writing for a global audience

  1. Watch out for multiple meanings 
  2. Use active voice 
  3. Keep it simple 

Learning a new language is tough, and studying in it can be even harder. You can help your work reach even further by writing for a global audience. But how? Here are three ways our head copyeditor Lindsay Hartley-Backhouse, Msc ensures you’re writing doesn’t confuse non-native English speakers.

All languages have their quirks, and English is no exception. For a native speaker, our word choices can be automatic, and we aren’t always aware of how we can accidentally make a sentence unnecessarily confusing.  However, when you need your work to be easily understood by a non-native speaker, this can cause problems. Your audience might be reading in their second (or more!) language, which makes writing for a global audience a crucial part of our copy editing work at Written Progress.

1. Watch for multiple meanings

Many words have multiple meanings, and how a native speaker uses them might not be how people interpret them. For example, ‘concerning’ can mean both ‘worrying’ and ‘about’. Many words have even more meanings: ‘application’ can refer to ‘job application’, or ‘applying a coat of varnish’, or the ‘Twitter application’ (aka app).  While avoiding words with multiple meanings is not always possible, it’s good practice to consider them and how you might make things simpler for a non-native English-speaking audience.

2. Use active voice

Active voice is language in which the grammatical subject of the sentence is the person or thing performing the action. Passive voice is the language in which the grammatical subject of the sentence is the person or thing being acted upon. That might sound tricky to understand, but native speakers can often switch between the two without really thinking about it. Here’s an example to help you out: 

Active voice: The program reduced the number of at-risk households.

Passive voice: The number of at-risk households was reduced by the program.

As well as being more engaging overall, the simplified active voice sentences help non-native English speakers understand the meaning better. The passive voice can be useful if we don’t know WHO/WHAT is responsible for doing the action, e.g., the poverty level must be reduced (but who is going to reduce it?). Generally speaking, though, we should aim for an active voice. 

3. Keep it simple

Sometimes there’s the temptation to add more ‘advanced’ vocabulary to a document, but we should consider whether that will add value or make things harder for a global audience. For example, to keep things simple, consider using:

  • ‘Start’ or ‘begin’ instead of ‘commence’ 
  • ‘So’ instead of ‘consequently’ 
  • ‘Use’ instead of ‘utilize’ or ‘leverage’  

 Using advanced vocabulary can confuse readers, so start using simpler language rather than consequently, commencing utilizing uncomplicated language. As we mentioned in our article on the science behind copyediting, overly wordy text like this can make readers work harder but retain less information. Add reading in a non-native language to the mix, and the risk of alienating readers could rise further.

Find out how we can help you write for a global audience  

Here at Written Progress, we have a team of dedicated writers and copyeditors who are well-practiced in targeting a global audience, cutting through the jargon to ensure your audience understands your work. Get in touch today to see how we can help you maximize your global reach.


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