Plain Language

Plain language is easy to read and understand. It is clear, concise, and well-organized. It is also an approach for communicating in a way that fits the needs, interests, and abilities of the intended audience. Plain language can be used in all forms of communication—oral, print, web, multimedia, and social media. It is not “dumbing down” information.

The plain language approach includes:

  • Clear and effective writing and speaking that the intended audience can easily understand
  • No jargon, bureaucratic language, “medicalese,” or “legalese”
  • Information limited to the key points the audience needs to take appropriate action
  • Graphic design that draws people in and helps them navigate the information

You might be thinking, “But won’t it offend the good readers?” On the contrary, studies have shown that skilled readers appreciate plain language because it’s a “quick read” and to the point.

Why Use the Plain Language Approach?

  • Plain language saves time and money.
    • If readers can easily find information in your print materials, you’ll have fewer calls for help.
    • Your employees can save time reading and writing clear memos and concise e-mails.
  • Plain language can be a powerful tool to help people improve their health. Patients need to understand how to care for their chronic conditions, take medications, and prepare for surgery. Information in plain language helps make this possible.
  • Plain language is easier to read than technical, legal, or complicated writing. Therefore, readers are more likely to read all the information.
  • Even confident readers appreciate plain language. It enables them to read more quickly and with increased comprehension.

Plain Language in the United States

  • Plain language has been gaining ground in the federal government for well over a decade. In 2010, plain language advocates achieved a major victory when the Plain Writing Act was passed.1 This law requires federal government agencies to write publications and forms in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner using plain language guidelines.
  • Most government agencies, including our largest federal health agencies, are working to improve communication with the public by using plain language.

 

For more information about plain language, see the sites below.

www.plainlanguage.gov
www.plainlanguagenetwork.org
www.centerforplainlanguage.org

 

  1. Plain Writing Act. Public Law 111–247 111th Congress. U.S. Congress; 2010. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ274/pdf/PLAW-111publ274.pdf.