Federal Plain Language Guidelines
Table of Contents and Guidelines
Download the Guidelines: PDF | Word | What we changed in this revision
The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from government. We first developed this document in the mid-90s. We continue to revise it every few years to provide updated advice on clear communication. We hope you find this document useful, and that it helps you improve your writing — and your agency’s writing — so your users can
- find what they need,
- understand what they find; and
- use what they find to meet their needs.
We’ve divided the document into five major topics, although many of the subtopics fit within more than one topic. We start with a discussion of your audience because you should think about them before you start to write your document or your web content. In fact, you should start to think about them before you start to plan. 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.
When we first wrote this document, we were primarily interested in regulations. We’ve broadened our coverage, but the document still bears the stamp of its origin. If you have a suggestion about something we should add to address other types of writing, or have a comment on this version, contact us. We also offer free half-day training for federal agencies in the Washington, DC area. Contact us for more information.