My small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm, Advice Unlimited, has been serving the Federal government marketplace for nearly 30 years to help companies with innovative technology get their solutions to the government. Every month, I’ll offer unlimited advice on how to work with this unique market. Please email me with questions or comments.

Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do You Have a Plain Language Program?

Is your organization still bogged down in ‘government-speak’? Isn’t it time you get with the ‘plain language’ program – and get back to clear, simple, direct communication?

Plain language is communication that your target audience can understand the first time they hear or read it. Use clear, direct language to say what you mean, so your audience can understand your message, and find what they need. On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law, requiring federal agencies to use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” Three Executive Orders have also been issued on this topic.

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that the public deserves clear communication from government, recommends making your plain language program SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Realistic, with a Timeframe. How can you begin to turn this idea into action? PLAIN recommends the following:

  • 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.

Plain language is something that every organization needs to be aware of. No good comes from getting your message out there, if your message is not clear enough to be understood. Contact me at or 301-924-0330 to discuss how we can help you set up your plain language program, and get you going on the path to clearer communication!