Blog #6 Plain Language is a Necessity

The use of plain language in public discourse that is published by the government is vital for a society to function as a democracy. As the Center for Plain Language mentions, plain language is a civil right. In order for citizens to effectively participate in government, they must be able to comprehend the information presented. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is vital, because its purpose is “to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” It is useless for the government to publish information that the public cannot comprehend; it is a waste of time and resources.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is important, because the government publications that are used by American citizens ought to be clear enough for the average citizen to understand. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average reading level for American adults is between the 8th and 9th grade level. For Americans older than 65, nearly 2 out of 5 read below a grade 5 level, and about 20 percent of Americans are “functionally illiterate” meaning that they cannot read most newspapers. The statistics are proof that the use of plain language is absolutely necessary when the audience is the average American.

However, I don’t support the use of plain language in all technical communication. For example, if the audience is mainly educated professionals and others who understand complex syntax, then plain language is not necessary. In other words, determining whether or not to implement plain language to technical communication depends on who the audience is.

Personally, I have found the use of plain language in tax documents very helpful with filing my taxes. Instead of paying a tax expert to fill out the forms, I was able to use the publications provided by the IRS to understand the forms. I have also been able to use the publications to file taxes for my family and friends. The publications implement plain language by organizing the information in a coherent way that is easy to follow, and the text is clear and concise. Thanks to this, I have saved hundreds of dollars for myself and others by filing the taxes myself.

A critique of using plain language may be that information is lost when it is condensed and translated into simple terminology. However, if used effectively, plain language does not result in a loss of information. It can save time and money by reducing misunderstandings and it can help people locate information more easily. Most importantly, it helps the information reach more people.

I have provided an example below to demonstrate the use of plain language in IRS Form CP 2000.




The Literacy Problem

Plain Language Association International

The Plain Writing Act of 2010


2 thoughts on “Blog #6 Plain Language is a Necessity”

  1. I truly enjoyed your views on plain language being a necessity. As a Public Policy major I can attest the necessity of plain language is stressed in both the classroom and my internship. When working with the public and distributing information knowing your audience is vital as you stated.
    I enjoyed the way you covered and differentiated moments when plain language is necessary and when it is not. I would have like for you to address language barriers as well. For example at the county level in Georgia, how many counties have a identified a ESOL population within their community. I know in DeKalb County there is a large refugee population from numerous countries. Is there a system in place that immediately addresses this issue. Is there a translator smaller counties can share or maybe someone on staff?
    In addition appreciated that you recognized plain language can sometimes leave out information in attempt to simplify and condense what is being said. Blanketing plain language across every sector or field is not the best practice nor is necessary.

  2. I agree with both the post and the comment; plain language absolutely has a proper time and place, and when it is not used when it should be (or used when it shouldn’t be) it not only complicates the communication process, but it reflects poorly on the organization.

    I found your entry to be well organized, thoughtful, and extremely effective – particularly your antithesis and resulting rebuttal. The point that you raised – using plain language does not necessarily result in a loss of information – is an incredibly important point that I think often gets overlooked or forgotten, just for the sake of scholarly language or verbose prose. Thank you for defending it.

    And in response to the comment: as a veteran of the Dekalb County education system, I can attest that there is NO system in place that addresses language barriers, despite the numerous and varied languages spoken by students across the county.

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