The Plain Writing Act Part I

In 2010 the Plain Writing Act became a law. It declares that “Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly.” According to Annetta Cheek, a retired federal worker, “Government is all about telling people what to do. If you don’t write clearly, they’re not going to do it.” Wise words!

Only federal government agencies are legally bound by the Plain Writing Act. But the thinking behind the law makes sense to every government worker – including police officers.

Here’s an example from a government pamphlet written before Congress passed the Plain Writing Act:

Winter Preparedness Safety Tips Timely preparation, including structural and non-structural mitigation measures to avoid the impacts of severe winter weather, can avert heavy personal, business and government expenditures. Experts agree that the following measures can be effective in dealing with the challenges of severe winter weather.  WORDY

Now look at this Plain Writing Act rewrite:

Severe winter weather can be extremely dangerous. Consider these safety tips to protect your property and yourself.  BETTER

The advantages to government bureaucracies are obvious: Clear, simple writing minimizes confusion and saves time and money. Plain Writing guidelines make reports easier to write, read, and review – a boon to busy officers and their supervisors, especially when preparing for a court hearing.

Another advantage is that modern writing practices make a positive impression on judges, attorneys, media representatives, and community leaders who read reports.

The Plain Writing Act is good news for busy government workers, even those not whose jobs aren’t covered by the new guidelines. You can learn more about Plain Writing at

The next post will discuss three writing guidelines that many agencies have adopted. Stay tuned!

A chalkboard that has "plain language" written on it


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