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What is Plain Language? Why Should You Use Plain Language? Where Do You Start?
What is Plain Language?

The Plain Language Initiative requires the use of plain language in all new documents written for the public, other government entities and fellow workers. Writing that is clear and to the point helps improve communication between the government and the public since clear material takes less time to read and understand. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson urges that all government documents use plain English and avoid both jargon and highly technical language.

You should use plain language for all documents, presentations, and electronic communications. First, let's look at the characteristics of plain language.

Plain language is:
* grammatically correct language that includes complete sentence structure and accurate word usage.

clear writing that tells the reader exactly what the reader needs to know without unnecessary words or expressions.

Plain language is not:
* unprofessional writing.

a method of "dumbing down" or "talking down" to the reader.

Certain hallmarks characterize plain language. These include:
* common, everyday words, except for necessary technical terms;

"we," "you," and other personal pronouns;

* the active voice;
* logical organization; and

easy-to-read and understand design features, such as bullets and tables.

Because part of the NIH mission is to reach all Americans with health information they can use, we must try to communicate in a way that helps people to easily understand our research results.

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Last updated: March 28, 2003