Plain Language/Writing for the Web
What It Is
Plain Language is a best practice for managing your agency’s website. You should use plain language in writing your website. Plain language means using words that the website's typical visitor can understand the first time.
Agencies must simplify and test federal forms (PDF, 94 KB, 2 pages, August 2012), according to an August 9, 2012, OMB memo.
In 2011, OMB published Final Guidance (PDF, 269 KB, 6 pages, April 2011) to help agencies implement the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (PDF, 153 KB, 3 pages, September 2010). The law requires agencies to write documents and websites in plain language. In addition, in his January 21, 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, President Obama emphasized the importance of establishing "a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration."
How to Implement
- Create a review plan:
- If it applies to your agency, learn how to write regulations (PDF, 405 KB, 56 pages, November 2010) in plain language.
- Plainlanguage.gov—The official government plain language website
- Federal Plain Language Guidelines—Apply these OMB–approved guidelines to your writing.
- Test your content to see if it's easy to read and understand
- TED-Ed Video: Say What You Mean
- Benefits of Plain Language from the Center for Plain Language
- The Audience You Didn't Know You Had
- List of agency Plain Language officials and websites
- The ClearMark Plain Language Awards includes awards for Best Government Website and Best Government Document Written in Plain Language
- Checklist for Plain Language Web Writing (MS Word, 15 KB, 1 page, December 2011)
- Writing for the Web: Helping you Improve your Online Communications—The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guide to plain web writing (PDF, 41 pages, March 2011)
- Plain Language + Usability Resource List—Resources that will help you continue to improve your documents and websites
- Easy to Read NYC: Guidelines for Clear and Effective Communication (PDF, 347 KB, 28 pages, September 2007)—New York City Government's nine easy, practical guidelines for how to write in plain language.
- A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents (PDF, 347 KB, 28 pages, January 2007)—The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's guide to writing informative disclosure documents.
- Free Plainlanguage.gov Training
- Graduate School's Plain Writing: It's the Law
- NIH's Online Tutorial
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Environmental Health Tracking Branch won the 2012 ClearMark Plain Language Award for Best Public Website
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services created Plain Language videos that highlight proper use of acronyms, active voice, proofreading, and tables
- ClearMark Plain Language Award for Best Public Website
- The National Cancer Institute provides clear navigation labels for use by the general public
- The Centers for Disease Control provides bestbonesforever.gov, a site for kids that has well-written and audience-appropriate language
Review the Plain Writing Act of 2010: Agency Requirements page.
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