The plain truth about plain-language practices

New Web page details best practices. Short sentences are one.

Write short sentences. Avoid jargon. Use short, simple words.

Those are some of the writing tips offered from a new federal Web page offering guidance to agencies on how to comply with the new Plain Writing Act of 2010 on agency Web pages.

The Plain Language best practices page at WebContent.gov is managed by the Federal Web Managers Council and sponsored by the General Services Administration.


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Under the new law, which took effect Oct. 26, agencies must use plain language to communicate with the public on agency Web pages. In a similar effort, Defense Department Executive Secretary Michael Bruhn is urging DOD agencies to forgo acronyms.

Tips for how to use plain language most effectively include tailoring writing for readers with the least expertise as well as following guidelines contained in a short video, PowerPoint presentation, writing samples and training exercises, and an Office of Management and Budget-approved guidance document.

Not all the instruction appears to use proper grammar. A prominent section at the top of the page explains: “Plain language is [sic] words  the website's typical visitor can understand.”

The OMB-approved guidance document is detailed, with grammatical instructions on “using active voice” and “using the simplest form of a verb.” It also instructs agencies not to turn verbs into nouns and to avoid “hidden” verbs.

The Plain Language page also includes a model copy of a Plain Writing page that agencies may publish on their websites. The Plain Writing page names an agency coordinator for plain writing efforts within the agency.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Dec 13, 2010 Washington Metro Area

T'is a pity that this law does not apply to House and Senate staff members who draft bills aimed at becoming laws that tell the rest of us how to live. If the laws themselves were written in Plain Language they wouldn't be thousands of pages long, and the law makers, and citizenry, for that that matter, could read them before being asked to vote on the contents of the legislation.

Mon, Dec 13, 2010

Try telling that to the Y, not the YMCA, or BP or NPR or 3M or...

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