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Clear It Up: Plain Language in Government Health Information

Photo: Plain language

Courtesy of Center for Plain Language

Do pages and pages of dense text, unfamiliar words, and small type make your head hurt and your eyes glaze over? You aren't alone. Plain language advocates say that all information, and especially government information, could be much easier for people to use. Now, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires all federal agencies to use plain language when they communicate with the public.

Plain language is all about being clear. What is plain language? It is communication that your listener or reader can understand the first time they hear or read it. You may have to write and revise many times and ask for feedback from your audience to achieve understanding of the information.

CDC already knows that plain language can make it easier for the public to find and use health information. We host a health literacy web site that provides tips and tools for health professionals to be more effective communicators. We also provide free health literacy training for anyone working to communicate health information to the public. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires agencies to use the federal plain language guidelines,or the agencies' own guidelines. CDC uses both. We have our own plain language manual, Simply Put [PDF - 1.87MB].

Photo: Clarity

Courtesy of Center for Plain Language

Although the guidelines offer dozens of tips for clear communication, the four most important steps you can take are

  • Know your audience and the purpose of your information
  • Organize the information from your readers' or listeners' perspective
  • Choose your words carefully: use active voice, short sentences, everyday words and personal pronouns
  • Use presentation elements, such as bulleted lists and graphics that match and reinforce text

If you take these four steps, you'll be amazed how much you've done to clear it up!


More Information

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

  • Page last reviewed: February 10, 2012
  • Page last updated: February 10, 2012
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication