Preparing Content For Submission: Write in Plain Language
- Think About Your Audience: One of the most popular plain language myths is that you have to "dumb down" your content so that everyone everywhere can read it. That's not true. The first rule of plain language is: write for your audience. Use language your audience knows and feels comfortable with. Take your audience's current level of knowledge into account. Don't write for an 8th grade class if your audience is composed of PhD candidates, small business owners, working parents or immigrants. Only write for 8th graders if your audience is, in fact, an 8th grade class.
- Organize: Organization is key. Start by stating the document's purpose and its bottom line. Eliminate filler and unnecessary content. Put the most important information at the beginning and include background information (when necessary) toward the end.
- Write: Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Choose your words carefully – be precise and concise. Start with your main idea – don't start with an exception. Word order does matter, so place your words carefully. Keep it short; it's not a crime to use lots of periods. Write short paragraphs and include only one topic in each paragraph. Examples help your readers understand your points. Break up lots of text with lists and tables. Including an illustration can be more helpful than describing it.
- Test: Test your documents readability score to ensure that it meets the level of your target audience. There are a number of readability tools on the web that use the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scale to evaluate content, do a google search to locate them. You can also test your content for readability in Word.
For more information, use the Federal Plain Language Guidelines resource Tips And Tools For Writing In Plain Language or HHS’ resource Plain Writing in One Page. Additional Resources on HHS.gov/web include:
Content last reviewed on August 19, 2015