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What is Plain Language?

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 [PDF] Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov on October 13, 2010. The law requires federal agencies to use "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." The Act imposes several requirements on federal agencies:

The Act specifies that "covered documents" are those that:

  • are necessary for obtaining any Federal Government benefit or service, or filing taxes;
  • provide information about any Federal Government benefit or service; or
  • explain to the public how to comply with a requirement that the Federal Government administers or enforces.

The Act also requires agencies to use plain writing in every paper or electronic letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction. While regulations are exempt, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs encourages plain writing in the preambles of regulations.

Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Written material is in plain language if your audience can:

  • Find what they need;
  • Understand what they find; and
  • Use what they find to meet their needs.

There are many writing techniques that can help you achieve this goal. Among the most common are:

  • Write with a logical organization with the reader in mind
  • "You" and other pronouns
  • Uses an Active voice
  • Uses Short sentences
  • Use Common, everyday words
  • Easy-to-read design features

No one technique defines plain language. Rather, plain language is defined by results-it is easy to read, understand, and use.

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