Book Review: Communicating with Older People: Writing in plain English by Sarah Carr

Book Review: Communicating with Older People: Writing in plain English by Sarah Carr

Reviewed by Catherine Buckie

Sarah Carr has written a concise yet comprehensive guide to communicating with older people that succeeds in offering practical advice without ever coming across as patronizing. Not only is Carr’s book about plain language, it is a model of plain language.

The first few words in Carr’s book drew me in: “I think it is sad that our society is so youth-oriented.” She then challenges us to check our own ageist thoughts and expressions, providing useful tips from Third Age Ireland, a voluntary community organization that promotes the resources of older people, and the Facebook group Gray and Proud. These tips offer us a reflection of our own ageist behaviours and, in doing so, draw us in further and prime us for Carr’s message.

Finally, Carr skilfully hammers home the point that we are ALL older than someone else, simply by using the term “older” rather than “old”, “elderly,” or “senior”. That aging is a process. So her guide isn’t really about writing for a particular “other” audience. It’s about writing for people like ourselves who want to read and understand the information we need easily and quickly.

Carr has clearly done her research and outlines the many problems older people face when reading written information. She also explains why it is important that we make information accessible to older people. Hint: It’s the right thing to do AND it’s good business.

The rest of the guide is a guide to writing in plain language or, as Carr calls it, “inclusive writing.” She takes us through the five elements of any written work:

  • Purpose

  • Content

  • Structure

  • Style and grammar

  • Layout and design

And she does so with clear advice, examples, evidence, and resources to follow-up.



I particularly appreciate that this guide does not assume that once the reader has read through it, they will feel qualified to write for older people themselves. She allows that people may need to hire editors and designers to do some of the work for them and provides information on how to contact such people. I would definitely recommend this guide to any organizations I work for if they are looking to communicate with older people. The guide was written for a UK audience but I work in Canada and find that all the advice holds true here as well. Communicating with Older People is available as a free download from

About the Author

Catherine has been a freelance plain language consultant since 2000. Clients include the the Government of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons, Safety Services Nova, the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, Dalhousie University, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Spring Loaded Technology. Catherine provides writing, editing, testing and training services. She possesses a Master of Education in Literacy degree from Mount Saint Vincent University where she specialized in plain language.