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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

About FDA

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Federal Plain Language Guidelines

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from the government. They first developed these guidelines in the mid-90s and continue to revise it every few years to provide updated advice on clear communication. They hope that all who use this document find that it helps improve their writing — so their users can

  • find what they need,
  • understand what they find; and
  • use what they find to meet their needs.

This document is divided into 5 major topics, although many of the subtopics fit within more than one topic. It starts 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 it moves to organization, because developing a good format and design is important during your planning stage. Next, it discusses writing principles, starting at the word level and moving up through paragraphs and sections. This is the most extensive topic. Next, there is a discussion on writing for the web, and last, it ends with a short discussion on testing techniques.

When PLAIN first wrote this document, they were primarily interested in regulations. Since then, they have expanded their coverage, but the document still bears the stamp of its origin. If you have a suggestion about something they should add to address other types of writing, or have a comment on this version, contact PLAIN.


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Federal Plain Language Guidelines

March 2011 version: Revision 1, May 2011.

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