What is Plain Language?
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:
- Logical organization with the reader in mind
- "You" and other pronouns
- Active voice
- Short sentences
- 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.
History of Plain Language in the United States
While there had been earlier efforts within the US government,
the current and most successful effort to spread the use
of plain language started in the mid-1990s in several agencies.
In 1995 a group of federal employees began meeting to try
to spread the use of plain language. This group remains
at the center of the US movement.
Definitions of Plain Language
This page links to a few of the many items discussing and defining the nature of plain language.
On June 1, 1998, President Clinton issued an executive memo
requiring agencies to write in plain language. Several statutes
have also admonished agencies to write certain types of
documents in plain language. In 2004, an interagency task
force working on behalf of the Office of Management and
Budget called for federal websites to be written in plain