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Federal plain language guidelines

These are the official guidelines for the Plain Writing Act of 2010. We developed these guidelines to help you and your agency write clearly, so your users can:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find to meet their needs


The guidelines are organized into sections, but many of the topics fit within more than one section. We start with a discussion of your audience because you should think about them before you start writing or planning to write. From there we move to organization, because developing a good organization is important during your planning stage. Next, we discuss writing principles, starting at the word level and moving up through paragraphs and sections. This is the most extensive topic. We follow principles of writing documents with principles of writing for the web. We conclude with a short discussion of testing techniques.


We first developed these guidelines in the mid-90s. We continue to revise them every few years to provide updated advice on clear communication. When we first wrote the guidelines, we were primarily interested in regulations. We’ve broadened our coverage, but the information still bears the stamp of its origin.

Questions? Comments?

If you have any feedback or questions about these guidelines, please contact us. We also offer free half-day training sessions for federal agencies in the Washington, DC area.