Progress on Plain Language

Posted by Erin Routson

In an ongoing effort to improve communications between the federal government and the American public, the White House Office of Management and Budget recently issued its final guidance for writing in plain language, a requirement of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, signed into law last October.

Clear communication doesn’t just improve citizen experience — plain language also saves the government money and improves agency efficiency, as an example provided by the OMB’s Cass Sunstein points out:

The Federal Communications Commission used to receive so many questions from the public about its requirements for ham radio operations that five full-time employees were needed to provide answers. After the requirements were written in plain language, questions dropped off so dramatically that all five of those employees could be reassigned to more pressing activity at the Commission.

As we’ve previously noted, the Plain Language Act requires that all documentation that provides information, notices or instructions to the public must be written clearly and concisely, avoiding jargon or confusing, acronym-ridden language.

By July 13, 2011, agencies must create a plain-writing section on their websites (see an early entry from the Department of the Interior, below) and designate a senior official to oversee the implementation of the Act. Come October, most federal public communications will be required to be issued in plain language.