Plain Language


About Plain Language

The principles of Plain Language make it easier for the public to read, understand, and use government communications.

This is achieved through:

  • Reader-centered organization
  • “You” and other pronouns
  • Active voice, not passive
  • Short sentences and paragraphs
  • Common, everyday words
  • Easy-to-follow design features (lists, headers, tables)


The following are the official guidelines from the Plain Writing Act of 2010. They are found in the Plain Language Guidelines  section of


1. Write for your audience

  • Do your research
  • Address the user
  • Address separate audiences separately

2. Organize the information

  • Make it easy to follow
  • Add useful headings
  • Have a topic sentence
  • Place the main idea before exceptions and conditions
  • Use transition words
  • Use lists

3. Choose your words carefully

  • Use simple words and phrases
  • Avoid hidden verbs
  • Avoid noun strings
  • Avoid jargon
  • Minimize abbreviations
  • Minimize definitions
  • Use the same terms consistently
  • Place words carefully

4. Be concise

  • Write short sentences
  • Keep the subject, verb, and object close together
  • Use positive language
  • Write short paragraphs
  • Write short sections

5. Keep it conversational

  • Use active voice
  • Use the present tense
  • Use contractions
  • Use examples
  • Use “must” to indicate requirements
  • Don’t use slashes

6. Design for reading

  • Use tables to make complex material easier to understand
  • Consider using visuals
  • Highlight important concepts
  • Minimize cross-references

7. Follow web standards

  • Avoid FAQs
  • Write effective links
  • Repurpose print material for the web
  • Avoid PDF overload

8. Test your assumptions

  • Paraphrase testing
  • Usability testing
  • Controlled comparative studies