U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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Plain Writing Checklist

Before you finish a document, ask yourself: Have you done the following?   


  • Identified and written for the typical reader in your intended audience?
  • Developed the document around your reader's needs?


  • Organized content by questions and answers when possible?  
  • Included meaningful headings to guide your reader?
  • Used numbered lists, bullet lists, or tables to improve clarity and scannability?


  • Used “you,” “we,” and other pronouns?
  • Used the active voice?
  • Used action verbs in the simplest tense possible? 
  • Written sentences of fewer than 20 words?
  • Created short, concise paragraphs of fewer than 5 sentences that cover only one topic?
  •  Defined unusual words and acronyms?
  • Used “must” instead of “shall” or “will” to indicate requirements, policy, or law?

Punctuation & Linking

  • Used periods or dashes instead of semicolons?
  • Linked to rather than repeated text from other resources?
  • Used key words for link language instead of “click here” or “learn more”?


  • Read the content aloud to hear whether it’s understandable?
  • Tried to reduce the content by 1/3?
Content created by Digital Communications Division (DCD)
Content last reviewed on August 19, 2015