July 26, 2023
Have you ever read a legal document and felt like it was so complicated that you weren’t sure if you really understood it? With a majority of all Americans reading below a sixth-grade reading level, we believe more people should use plain language.
What is Plain Language?
Plain Language is the practice of communicating in a way that is easily understood. It combines several elements including:
- Short, clear sentences
- Common words
- Reader-centered organization
- Active voice
According to plainlanguage.gov, material is in plain language if the 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
It Isn’t Just a Guideline; Plain Language is Law!
The plain language movement had its start in the 1970s. At that time, the federal government asked its writers to be less bureaucratic. In 1978, President Carter issued Executive Orders to make regulations “easy-to-understand by those who were required to comply with them.”
Plain language continued to gain momentum in the decades that followed. But nothing formal was in place until President Obama made history. He is the one who signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into federal law.
This law may be specifically for federal agencies, but anyone can follow Plain Language guidelines.
Plain Language and Accessibility
The biggest reason to use plain language is that it saves time. How? Well, simple writing makes reading and understanding easier for everyone.
When more people understand something they read, there’s less chance of errors or confusion around it. That means less time is spent explaining it because they’re more likely to understand it right away. And if a document gives instructions, readers are more likely to understand them and follow them correctly.
Why We Aim for a Sixth Grade Reading Level
The American Medical Association recommends a sixth grade reading level and the National Institutes of Health suggests eighth grade for patient education materials.
At GT Independence, we aim to write at a sixth grade reading level whenever we can. That’s because 130 million adults in the US have low literacy skills. In fact, 54% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 read below a sixth-grade level. That’s more than half of all Americans!
There are some words we have to use that are more advanced than sixth grade. Some of them can’t be avoided or simplified. But, we do our best to stay at or near a sixth grade level. The goal is to find a balance between words we can’t change, and readability for most people. This is just one way we help make self-direction easier for everyone.