Tips for starting a plain language program
Starting a plain language program can be challenging. But like most challenges, the reward will far outweigh the effort. The reward in this case is clear communication—an asset for any organization.
As a first step, you’ll want to look at our training materials to get an idea of what you should cover:
We periodically offer a Train-the-Trainer Bootcamp.
The Federal Plain Language Guidelines is our handbook for writers. You can use it to structure a training course. It makes a good text or reference for your students.
You can also use our training materials to create your own class.
Set SMART goals
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and have a timeframe.
- Start with a clearly defined goal, and communicate your expectations to everyone involved in the effort.
- Implement a training program so that the entire organization is on the same page.
- Look for small successes and aim for continuous improvement—not rapid change.
- Revise first those documents that have the biggest circulation and are the hardest to understand.
- Post examples of clearly written documents on a website or home directory as a reference tool.
- Evaluate your progress frequently and seek feedback. Adjust your course if necessary.
- Designate “go to” people on your staff who are accessible and knowledgeable.
- Make sure your top managers are plain language practitioners.
- Encourage these managers to champion the process.
Follow plain language guidelines
Use the active voice. The European Commission’s Translation Service is running a “Fight the Fog” campaign, which includes many online resources for improving writing. In its Write Clearly booklet, Fight the Fog gives tips on changing passive voice to active by naming the agent of an action.
Organize the information. In Plain Language: A Handbook for Writers in the U.S. Federal Government, Richard Lauchman explains how to prepare the reader for what to expect by using summary statements, being precise on the subject lines of letters and email messages, and summarizing lengthy documents in one, up-front paragraph.
Use tables. You can use tables effectively for much more than just showing numerical data.
Use lists. Using lists instead of traditional paragraphs can help you convey detailed information quickly without overloading your readers.
Work with us
We can also help you work with one of our trained instructors to set up a course.
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires agencies to train their staff in plain language. PLAIN offers free consultation to federal agencies on how to start an internal agency plain language program. We have previously worked with the National Institutes of Health, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Veterans Benefits Administration (to name a few). These agencies now have self-run, thriving plain language programs.
If you have any questions or need more help, contact us.