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Plain Language

Within the Office of Information and Technology we are constantly bombarded with new jargon, abbreviations (acronyms, and initialisms), and tech speak. Unfortunately, even within our own offices, much of this information is not generally understood. Now imagine you are a VA staff member or a Veteran given instruction in this cryptic language — the customer experience is immediately diminished. It is imperative that we understand that most of the population does not understand the technical aspects of information technology and it is our responsibility to make sure the technology and processes can be easily understood. Using plan language to explain complex topics is a key component to accessibility — and it's the law.

Plain language (also called plain writing or plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 defines plain language as:

Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.

Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Material is in plain language if your audience can:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find the first time they read or hear it
  • Use what they find to meet their needs
  • Use words like learn, explore, visit, referenced previously instead of see, take a look at, as seen below or above, etc.

There are many techniques that can help you achieve this goal. Among the most common are:

  • Reader-centered organization
  • “You” and other pronouns
  • Active voice, not passive
  • Short sentences and paragraphs
  • Common, everyday words
  • Easy-to-follow design features (lists, headers, tables)

The Plain Language website provides templateschecklists, and in-depth writing guidelines to help you develop communications in plain language.

Other Resources

Disclaimer

This website includes links to other websites outside our control and jurisdiction. VA is not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of non-VA Web sites. We encourage you to review the privacy policy or terms and conditions of those sites to fully understand what information is collected and how it is used.

Statement of Endorsement

Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

Page last updated on February 7, 2022

Digital Accessibility Guide

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