Abstract The radiation efficiency of a flat rectangular plate is often used as a basis on which to represent the sound radiation from more complex plate-like structures. The solution for a plate set in a rigid baffle is well known, including the radiation efficiency for multi-modal response of the plate. In this case the assumption is usually made that each mode within a given frequency band has equal modal vibration energy. This paper explores a number of limitations of this simple result. First, the extent to which the radiation efficiency for a particular forcing point deviates from the modal-average result is investigated. Second, the difference is shown between the results for a baffled plate and an unbaffled plate. For a multi-modal response, an empirical formula is also presented which allows the radiation efficiency to be estimated for the unbaffled case. Finally, the effect of different boundary conditions on both baffled and unbaffled results is demonstrated by comparing the results for guided boundaries with those for simply supported boundaries.