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Plain language is grammatically correct and universally understood language that includes complete sentence structure and accurate word usage. Plain language is not unprofessional writing or a method of "dumbing down" or "talking down" to the reader.
Writing that is clear and to the point helps improve all communication as it takes less time to read and comprehend. Clear writing tells the reader exactly what the reader needs to know without using unnecessary words or expressions. Communicating clearly is its own reward as it saves time and money. It also improves reader response to messages. Using plain language avoids creating barriers that set us apart from the people with whom we are communicating.
We at OPM fully support the Plain Language initiative, which has its origins in a Federal directive that requires agencies to incorporate plain language elements in the development of communications materials for the public. We are committed to the use of plain language in all new documents written for the public, other government entities, and fellow workers.
After all, OPM's mission is to recruit, retain, and honor a world-class workforce. Prospective, current, and former employees – as well as their families and other stakeholders, many of whom also receive benefits through OPM – deserve to receive clear and consistent information from us. Further, the American people deserve a better window into what their government does.
President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (H.R. 946/Public Law 111-274) on October 13, 2010. The Act is designed "to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."
Certain qualities characterize plain language. These include common, everyday words, except for necessary technical terms. Other qualities include the use of personal pronouns; the active voice; logical organization; and easy-to-read and understandable design features, such as bullets and tables.
Use common, everyday words whenever possible.
Appearance is an important aspect of clear communication. If a document is pleasing to the eye, it will be more likely to attract your readers' attention. Appearance can also be an aid to readers, improving comprehension and retention.
To ensure that you are communicating clearly, evaluate the document or, better yet, have another person read it and offer suggestions for clarification. Look over the document for:
For more information, visit our Open Government blog.
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