Open Government at the National Archives

2022 Plain Writing Report

(This report was submitted April 2023 [posted on 4-21-23])

Our Commitment 

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is committed to improving our service to the public by using plain language in all our communications—internal as well as external. We use plain language in all new or revised communications about:

  • any of our services and benefits,
  • obtaining any of our benefits or services, or
  • complying with a NARA requirement

Our commitment to the goals of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 is part of our target mission of providing public access to federal government records in our custody.  

These records are the bedrock of our democracy. They document our rights and entitlements as citizens. They allow us to hold our government officials accountable for their actions. And they serve as firsthand witnesses to the important events of our national experience. 

We actively promote access to these records through a wide range of activities. By inviting the public to transcribe handwritten documents through crowdsourcing, we open up those documents to millions more, now and in the future. Through online and on-site workshops, tutorials, and lectures, we provide context to the records that will allow researchers to make further discoveries. And by promoting better records management in agencies, before the records even get to the National Archives, we ensure the documentation of our government’s work will endure for generations to come.

The Plain Writing Act promotes “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” and NARA wants to ensure that the public can understand and use its own federal records. Learn more about our Plain Writing activities.

Senior Official for Plain Writing

NARA's Senior Official for Plain Writing is Maria Carosa Stanwich, Chief of Staff.

Long-Term Ongoing Plain Writing Actions 

In 2022, NARA remained committed to using plain writing in its communications with the public, its staff, and other government agencies. Agency managers support plain writing reviews, and a growing number of offices send their material to the editorial staff in the Office of the Chief of Staff for review before publication. In 2023 we will continue our efforts to heighten awareness of editorial services and plain writing resources available to all staff.

Plain Language Reviews for Training Units

NARA’s editorial staff review training modules for plain language and adherence to the NARA Writing Style Guide. NARA’s Supervisor’s Handbook also went through a revision and plain language review.

Our Communications and Marketing Division/Editorial Staff

The Communications and Marketing Division staff edits communications destined for both internal and external audiences. A plain writing review is built into the publication process for all official internal communications. The team also reviews agency-wide notices, email communications, flagship social media posts, press releases, and external communications for plain language and adherence to the NARA Writing Style Guide. In calendar year 2022, the editorial services team reviewed 452 documents.

  • Internal communications cover all official announcements to all staff and include email announcements and information, official NARA Notices (188 in 2022), articles and features for Declarations (our online internal news outlet), slide presentations for All Hands meetings, and training materials for all staff. All stories for Declarations and other internal communications are reviewed by multiple writer-editors before publication.
  • External communications include press releases, news articles, educational materials, blog posts, social media posts, exhibit scripts, annual reports, and information on the agency’s website. These products come from units across the agency.

NARA Style Guide

The NARA Writing Style Guide is an important tool for NARA writers to produce writing that conveys clear thought. The guide covers writing in plain language as well as matters of style, grammar, and usage. As questions of style are debated and settled, the editorial staff updates the guide, and we made a small update in 2022.

Examples of Select NARA Units’ Efforts to Improve Writing

NARA comprises a large number of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries across the country. Within the locations, staff engage in a number of activities to further our mission of access: research assistance, records management, preservation, education, exhibits, declassification, and more.

Here are a few examples of how Presidential Libraries pursued the goal of plain writing: 

  • The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum always uses two people to proofread communications, and they continue to submit writings to NARA editors for  editing, proofreading, and plain language review before release. This past year, they created a museum app with descriptions of museum galleries and plan to train the new public affairs specialist and education specialist in plain language. Customer satisfaction surveys for this period reflect high satisfaction rates for the museum content and  visitor experience. 
  • The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum regularly reviews and updates language related to online and onsite ticketing to minimize confusion for the public. They also revised the entire Occupant Emergency Plan, separating local language from NARA boilerplate and simplifying language for ease of understanding and application. In addition, library staff ensure that press releases are edited to ensure clarity before releasing them to the public.
  • The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum revised and redesigned its main museum brochure. On the map, they identified important public spaces so that visitors can more easily find them. They increased the font size used in their "Exhibit Survey" and added rating boxes to make it easier for visitors to read and provide a more accurate evaluation of their experience.

Our Web Services

Our Web Division uses human-centered design methodologies and also follows the standards set within the U.S. Web Design System when developing content for the web. In addition, we  offer the following support services to NARA staff in order to strengthen awareness of usability best practices and to ensure our compliance with the Plain Writing Act and related guidance:

User Experience Research — Surveys, user interviews, user testing, A/B testing, metrics analysis, competitive analysis, customer journey mapping, user personas, and heatmap usage data. (View real-time Metrics)

Design and Development — Redesigns (including content audits and content strategy), migration to the Drupal content management system, and other improvements that organize content and use best practices for information architecture based on top tasks.

Prototyping and User Testing — Testing concepts, designs, and prototypes with users to meet their needs in an iterative fashion, tweaking web products as testing informs final designs and outcomes.

Plain Language Training

NARA’s online training tools, Learning Management System and SkillSoft, offer several plain language classes. Staff also attend external classes such as the Plain Language Basics: Online Workshop” offered by the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN).

See our Examples page to see how we're implementing plain language.