What is plain language?
Plain language (also called plain writing or plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 defines plain language as:
Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.
Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Material is in plain language if your audience can:
- Find what they need
- Understand what they find the first time they read or hear it
- Use what they find to meet their needs
There are many techniques that can help you achieve this goal. Among the most common are:
- Reader-centered organization
- “You” and other pronouns
- Active voice, not passive
- Short sentences and paragraphs
- Common, everyday words
- Easy-to-follow design features (lists, headers, tables)
We’ve developed templates, checklists, and in-depth writing guidelines to help you develop communications in plain language.
Other definitions of plain language
A definition of “plain English” from a leading book on legal writing, Garner’s Legal Writing in Plain English.
Plain language defined by a scholar of plain language, Australian Robert Eagleson.
Clear writing and plain language as defined by Nick Wright in the EPA writing course.
International Conference on Plain Language, 2002, paper by Christopher Balmford, on the evolution of Plain Language on the international stage.
Elements of Plain Language, Joe Kimble, Michigan Bar Journal.
Revisiting Plain Language, Beth Mazur, Technical Communication, the Journal of the Society for Technical Communication.