Plain Language

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.

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

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.

Test the readability of your content

General guidance and plain-language resources

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 or Siteimprove Academy, please contact Theresa Montano, OIT Solutions Architect of Accessibility at theresa.montano@state.co.us.

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