Resources and Tips for Writing in Plain Language
National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a quick and easily understood self-guided online training program on using plain language. The content is available to download as well. Sections of the training include:
- Before You Start Writing. Focuses on planning before you write, which dovetails well with the FAS Communications courses, Communication Planning 101.
- Connecting with Your Readers. Offers guidance on using language that is clear and concise in order to keep your audience engaged, whether they are readers or listeners.
- Presenting Your Information. Provides recommendations for structuring your document and defining terms to reach and hold a non-technical audience.
- Formatting and Visual Clarity. Describes ways in which layout, formatting and visual aids can attract readers and better communicate your message.
- Testing and Revising. Offers ways to help ensure your draft is appropriate and clear for your target audience, including tips for what to look for when editing your draft.
The training program provides a useful Plain Language Checklist for Reviewing Your Document which you can download (PDF) to help you put the finishing touches on your writing.
An official website of the U.S. government, plainlanguage.gov states that “Plain language makes it easier for the public to read, understand, and use government communications.” The site (in plain language!) defines plain language as “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.”
Although much of the material is similar to that presented by NIH, plainlanguage.gov offers:
Open Government at the National Archives developed tools to help its employees use plain language in their writing. You may find these to be helpful for quick reference: