Open Government at the National Archives

Plain Language Writing Tips

These are examples of writing tips that are posted on the National Archives internal website for staff. We offer these tips to staff so their communication with the public is easier to understand and fits in with the principles of plain writing.

  • Why? The Plain Writing Act of 2010

    The act states that "Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly." While the act is quite short, the final guidance issued on April 13, 2011, by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) goes into more detail.

  • Breaking Up is Easy to Do

    One of the most common "sentence structure" problems that editors run across is the distance writers put between the subject and the verb.

  • Comma or No Comma?

    One of the biggest problems for some writers is deciding where to put commas and where NOT to put them.

  • First Things First

    You don't have to be writing an explicit set of instructions to be aware of the importance of order. Whenever you have something to tell someone, ask yourself "What is the most important information for my audience?" Then put that information at the top.

  • The Department of Redundancy Department

    Major events - like this week's Hurricane Sandy - are magnets for superlatives. Is each word necessary?

  • Passive Voice and Zombies

    Like mindless zombies thwarted by a chain-link fence, many writers struggle with the passive voice. There's something about official writing that suddenly makes writers suddenly unable to use pronouns.

  • Tightening Up

    Go through your text word by word and find places to tighten your writing. Here are some commonly used but wordy phrases that can be tightened up and make your text shorter by using one word instead of several.

  • Veterans Day – Getting it Right

    The day the nation honors its veterans is this coming Tuesday, November 11. As an Army veteran myself, I've often wondered if I'm spelling and punctuating the name of the day correctly when I write about it.

  • Wake Up Your Sentences

    The use of "There is. . ." and "There was. . ." only means something exists. No action is involved. In most cases, you can eliminate it and shorten the sentence to:

National Archives staff are continually informed about plain writing through internal newsletter articles, an internal web page, weekly writing tips, and blog posts on plain writing.

Contact us if you have suggestions on ways to improve our documents or website. Email