Plain Language At NIH

The  Plain Writing Act of 2010 (H.R. 946/Public Law 111-274PDF Logo (158 KB) requires federal employees to write documents in simple, easy-to-understand language.
More information is available at Plain Language at NIH and

Effective writing gets its message to readers clearly and simply.

Your readers want material that helps them:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find

You can make your written material more effective.

  • Logical organization with the reader in mind
  • "You" and other pronouns
  • Active voice
  • Short sentences
  • Common, everyday words
  • Easy-to-read design features

Simple ways to use Plain Language at the Clinical Center

  1. Logical organization with the reader in mind
    Consider who your readers are.  You may have more than one type of reader. Write for everyone who will read your material. Make sure the reading level fits each audience. Write what readers need and want to know. Organize content to answer their questions.

  2. Use "you" and other personal pronouns
    This may not always be appropriate, but when it is, address your reader as "you." Keep text gender neutral.

  3. Active voice
    Make verbs refer to what happens now, not what happened in the past. Try to use action verbs instead of variations of "to be" such as "is" or "become."

  4. Short sentences
    Keep sentences short and concise. Readers should not need to search for the period at the end of a sentence.

  5. Common, everyday words
    Avoid jargon, unexplained terms, or too many acronyms.

  6. Easy-to-read design

    • Organization
      Organize messages to respond to reader interests and concerns.

    • Introduction
      In longer documents, use an introduction and table of contents.

    • Effective layout (web or print)
      Use enough "white space" and margins. Use headings and Q and A format when appropriate. Try to anticipate the reader's questions and pose them as the reader would. Use adequate margins. This also applies to web page design.

    • Tables
      Tables convey information succinctly with fewer words—but only when they are clear. Keep tables simple.

    • Readable fonts
      To emphasize important items, use bold or italic text as long as this does not hinder readability.

Word Swaps

Using unexplained terms or more words than necessary "turns off" your reader's attention. Try swapping these words for complex ones.

Instead of this: Use this:
accompany go with
additional more
adjacent to next to
as a means of to
at the present time now
consequently so that
determine find out
demonstrate prove, show
facilitate help, ease
indicate show
is responsible for handles
modify change
participate take part
subsequent later, next
sufficient enough
terminate end
utilize, utilization use

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This page last updated on 05/17/2021

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