When you publish a piece of web content, it has the potential to reach a wide, varied audience. That includes second-language readers, people of every education level, and people from all around the world. So choosing the right words, syntax, formatting, and structure is very important if you want web content to reach the maximum number of readers. The US government’s Plain Language program is a great example of the “readability” concept in action. Through this program, agencies of the federal government aim to present vital information in the most accessible way possible.

What Is Plain Language?

In the simplest terms, it’s language that readers can understand the first time they read it. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 focuses on the improvement of language use in three key areas: regulations, health literacy, and financial information. On the program’s website, you’ll find a section dedicated to “before-and-afters,” where you can compare original documents to versions that have been updated in plain language.

How to Use Plain, Accessible Language

The program’s stated goal is to “improve communication from the federal government to the public,” but the concepts apply to every type of communication. Every element of a piece of communication can be tailored with accessible language and clear communication in mind. You’ve achieved plain language when your audience can “find what they need; understand what they find; and use what they find to meet their needs.”

  • Use common words, and avoid technical jargon whenever possible. If there’s no viable substitute for a technical term, be sure to clearly explain the term you choose.
  • Short sentences are easier to read than long ones. The same goes for short paragraphs. This is especially important for mobile devices, as large blocks of text are difficult for even experienced readers to follow on a small screen.
  • Use pronouns and write in the active voice to keep your readers engaged.
  • Make navigation and UI features easy to use. Include clear links to further resources for readers who need more information.

Plain Language Is Worth Your Time

In addition to improving government communication, the program’s website aims to inspire businesses and other organizations inside and outside of government to embrace accessible language practices. The site includes many training resources, from basic to high-level, to advance this goal. Like text to speech, plain language is an effective way to make your content and communications accessible to many members of your audience. [speech-enabling_websites]