The Plain Writing Act of 2010 (H.R. 946/Public Law 111-274) (158 KB) requires federal employees to write documents in simple, easy-to-understand language.
More information is available at Plain Language at NIH and plainlanguage.gov.
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
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.
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.
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."
Keep sentences short and concise. Readers should not need to search for the period at the end of a sentence.
Common, everyday words
Avoid jargon, unexplained terms, or too many acronyms.
Organize messages to respond to reader interests and concerns.
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 convey information succinctly with fewer words—but only when they are clear. Keep tables simple.
To emphasize important items, use bold or italic text as long as this does not hinder readability.
Using unexplained terms or more words than necessary "turns off" your reader's attention. Try swapping these words for complex ones.
|Instead of this:
|as a means of
|at the present time
|is responsible for