Plain Language Basics

Plain language is a type of communication that makes it easier for people to find, understand, and use information to meet their needs. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 established that information provided to the public by government agencies must be clear, concise, and well-organized. TCDD uses plain language in its informational materials and resources so people can find the information they need and understand the information the first time they read or hear it.  

The following list includes basic guidelines to help you start using plain language in your communications. For further information and training resources, visit   

Write for your audience
Identify your audience and write for your readers. Don’t write for experts, lawyers, or your management — unless they are your intended audience. Address separate audiences separately.

Use active voice with strong verbs
Active voice sentences follow a subject-verb-object format. So, “We mailed your form on May 1,” instead of “Your form was mailed by us on May 1.” Also, avoid hidden verbs. For instance, “The Council will meet,” instead of “The Council will be meeting.”

Be brief and to the point
Eliminate unnecessary words. Each paragraph should contain no more than five sentences. Vary the length of sentences but emphasize shorter (20 words or less) over longer.

Write conversationally
Present your information as if you were talking to a friend. Tailor your communication to an individual reader rather than a group of readers. Use personal pronouns such as we, our, us, and you. Use contractions such as we’re instead of we are.

Choose simplicity
Use simple and descriptive section headings. Craft short paragraphs. Write with ordinary and familiar words — think about the words your readers might use when searching for information online. Avoid jargon and explain technical terms that might be unfamiliar. 

Most important first
Organize content around your readers’ needs. Start with the most important information, then provide details. Highlight action items. Separate your content into sections and use lists to make it easier for readers to quickly scan and understand the information. 

Put everything in context
Don’t assume what your readers may know about a subject. They should be able to understand articles, emails, or webpages without needing extra research. 

Visit to find more plain language guidance and training resources. 

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