Plain Language Materials & Resources

Plain language makes it easier for everyone to understand and use health information. Although plain language is a familiar idea, many organizations don’t use it as often as they should. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to train staff to use plain language when they communicate with the public.

Plain Language Resources

Group of different words to describe Clear and Plain Language.

Keep the reader in mind as you make decisions about organizing and formatting your health information. Select the most appropriate words for the intended audience.

  • Everyday Words for Public Health Communication
    Use Everyday Words for Public Health Communication to reduce public health jargon. This tool lists terms that authors frequently use in public health materials and the terms’ common, everyday alternatives. The recommended alternatives come from CDC’s Health Literacy Council and other agency communicators. You can also see real-life examples of complex sentences and how our communicators revised them using common, everyday words.
  • The Federal Plain Language Guidelines
    The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communication from government. PLAIN developed and continues to revise the federal plain language guidelines to provide updated advice on clear communication.
  • Guidelines for Effective Writing
    Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
    CMS provides 8 categories of tips for effective writing.
  • Plain Language at NIH
    National Institutes of Health
    NIH has established the Clear Communication initiative that focuses on achieving health literacy objectives. Their page on plain language has information about training and links to plain language resources.

Plain Language Examples

The following materials demonstrate use of plain language principles.

Page from Stay Safe from COVID-19 showing mother taking daughter for COVID-19 vaccine

Stay Safe from COVID-19 won the 2022 ClearMark Award for Shorter Brochures. It was also part of the materials that won the Grand ClearMark Award.

Plain Language Checklist

Plain language is communication your audience understands the first time they read it or hear it. Use this checklist to make your materials easier for your audience to understand:

Organize to serve the audience

  • Know your audience and purpose before you begin.
  • Put the most important message first.
  • Present other information in order of importance to the audience.
  • Break text into logical chunks and use headings.

Choose words carefully

  • Write in the active voice.
  • Choose words and numbers your audience knows
  • Strive for an average of 20 words per sentence. Limit each sentence to 1 idea.
  • Limit paragraphs to 1 topic and 5 sentences.
  • Use “you” and other pronouns.

Make information easy to find

  • Use headings and text boxes.
  • Delete unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Create lists and tables, if appropriate.