Writing in Plain Language

Plain language is information that readers can understand the first time they read it and use easily.  

The U.S. Government has embraced plain language, and government agencies are revising written materials and websites to comply with plain language standards. On June 1, 1998, President Clinton issued an executive memo requiring agencies to write in plain language. In 2004, an interagency task force, working on behalf of the Office of Management and Budget, called for Federal websites to be written in plain language. Most recently, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, requiring agencies to write in plain language.

Federal plain language guidelines and other useful links, including plain language training, resources, tips, tools, and examples, can be found at http://www.plainlanguage.gov/index.cfm.

What is plain language?

Plain language standards that apply to MCC’s public documents include, but are not limited to:

  • writing for the average reader;
  • organizing information to serve the reader’s needs;
  • applying useful headings;
  • using “you” and other pronouns to speak to the reader;
  • using the active voice;
  • using short sections and sentences;
  • using the simplest tense possible—simple present is best;
  • using strong, active verbs;
  • omitting excess words;
  • using concrete, familiar, everyday words;
  • using “must” to express requirements; avoiding the ambiguous word “shall”;
  • placing words carefully (avoids large gaps between the subject, the verb and the object; puts exceptions last; places modifiers correctly);
  • using easy-to-read design features;
  • using lists and tables to simplify complex material; and
  • using no more than two or three subordinate levels.
Examples of plain language
Before After
Country ownership, transparency and accountability are founding principles of the work of the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and guide its operations worldwide. Country ownership, transparency and accountability guide the worldwide operations of the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
These traditional kilns use wood, tires and other materials that produce smoke that has had a negative effect on the artisans’ health and pollutes the environment. Traditional kilns use wood, tires and other smoke-producing materials, which harm artisans’ health and pollute the environment.

Is plain language training available?

Plain language online training is available and provides helpful instruction. The National Institutes of Health offers a comprehensive online tutorial at http://execsec.od.nih.gov/plainlang/index.html.

Case Study

Read the powerful transformation of an actual MCC piece using plain language principles.

Original Submission

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an innovative and independent US foreign aid agency created by the US Congress in 2004, that is committed to helping lead the fight against global poverty.

MCC responds to requests by eligible States to fund projects that foster economic growth as a means of reducing poverty in the developing world. MCC recognizes that the improvement of aviation safety constitutes a key factor in expanding access to markets and facilitating trade, thus addressing constraints to socio-economic growth and development.

MCC involvement in the field of civil aviation as of September 2011 includes two main airport infrastructure projects: the modernization and expansion of Bamako-Sénou International Airport in Mali and the upgrading of Mafia Island airport in Tanzania, for a total of about $183 million and $7 million, respectively.

The project in Mali consists of three components: (a) rehabilitation, reinforcement and extension of the existing runway to 3200 meters, (b) construction of a new passenger terminal, and (c) institutional strengthening of the Malian entities responsible for civil aviation safety and security, airport operations and environmental protection. The latter includes assistance in the establishment of appropriate institutional mechanisms to ensure effective management, operation and maintenance of the Airport facilities over the long term, involving both the management of the Airport, as well as the wider regulatory framework governing the civil aviation sector in Mali.

One of the most innovative aspects of the MCC approach is the inclusion of Conditions Precedent in the Compacts (agreements) between the agency and the beneficiary States: i.e. conditions that must be satisfied by the recipient – at its own expense – as a pre-condition for the continuation of MCC disbursements. In the case of MCC’s airport infrastructure projects, the inclusion of specific targeted Conditions Precedent constitutes a mechanism that provides added incentive for the beneficiary State to implement significant structural changes aimed at improving civil aviation safety, security and effectiveness.

The MCC approach also involves the creation of a local country-led executing agency, supported by the provision of a robust due diligence and oversight capacity on the part of the funding agency.


Revision

The U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an innovative and independent foreign aid agency created by the U.S. Congress in 2004, partners with well-governed countries throughout the developing world to reduce poverty through economic growth. In its efforts to address constraints to socioeconomic development and sustainable growth, MCC targets aviation safety as a means to expand access to markets and facilitate trade.

MCC improves civil aviation safety though both infrastructure investments and institutional policy reforms.

In Tanzania, for example, MCC invested $7 million to upgrade the airport on Mafia Island. This investment, which includes paving 1.4 kilometers of runway and making associated site improvements, will reduce transport costs and travel times and increase potential for revenue-generating tourism.

In Mali, MCC is investing $183 million to modernize and expand Bamako-Sénou International Airport. The project includes rehabilitating, reinforcing and extending the existing runway to 3,200 meters; constructing  a new passenger terminal; and strengthening Government of Mali institutions responsible for civil aviation safety and security, airport operations, and environmental protection. This also involves establishing appropriate institutional mechanisms for effective airport management, operation and maintenance; and fostering a stronger regulatory framework governing Mali’s civil aviation sector.

MCC requires partner countries to implement major policy reforms alongside large works infrastructure projects. Integrating policy reform and infrastructure development not only enhances economic sustainability, but also furthers civil aviation safety, security and effectiveness.