Plain Language

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Impact

Coloradans deserve plain language communication from their government. We’re all busy people and don’t want to spend time “translating” difficult, wordy documents. 

Plain language also helps:

  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People with low literacy skills
  • People who speak English as a foreign language
  • People who use assistive technology

Plain language means readers understand your documents more quickly, call less often for explanations, make fewer errors filling out forms, and can comply more accurately and quickly with requirements.

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Overview

  • Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.
  • 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
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How to

  • Organize the content in a way that makes sense to your readers
  • Use “you” and other pronouns
  • Use an active voice rather than a passive voice
  • Create short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use common, everyday words and avoid using idioms or figures of speech.
  • Apply easy-to-follow design features (lists, headers, tables (TBD))
  • As you’re writing, consider the subject literacy level of your target audience. Define terms that may be unfamiliar, and use an agency or division’s full name before using its acronym or abbreviation. 
  • Consider adding a glossary if your content contains many potentially unfamiliar terms. Include in-line definitions for scientific, legal, or technical terms that you must use.
  • More information is available on the How to Use Plain Language in Your Communications web page
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Test the Readability of Your Content 

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors. You can copy and paste the text into the Hemingway app and get immediate readability feedback:

  • Identify the grade reading level of the writing.
  • Highlight the use of passive voice and adverbs.
  • Provide simpler alternatives for complex or lengthy words.
  • Spotlight difficult-to-read sentences.

Additional Tools

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General Guidance and Resources

PlainLanguage.gov

Plain language is required for federal government agencies. As a result, they developed PlainLanguage.gov to help federal employees create content using plain language best practices. All levels of government employees can benefit from the resources that are available on this website:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can be a valuable tool to help create content using plain language best practices. 

Additional Resources 

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Resources for State of Colorado Agencies

Siteimprove: Siteimprove’s software helps to improve State website usability and accessibility by automating the process of finding errors and problems. Siteimprove alone will not make websites accessible but is part of a holistic approach to managing web services.

For questions about using Siteimprove, please contact the Technology Accessibility Program at OIT_Accessibility@state.co.us.

Don't have access to Siteimprove? Use these free browser extensions: