Writing in Plain Language

The Plain Writing Act became law in 2010, requiring federal agencies to use clear government communication that the public can easily understand. As we know from reading all those privacy policies, not many of them are written in plain language. By learning the principles of plain writing, you can craft a privacy policy for your library that your users will quickly understand.

* The information and exercises found in this section comes from https://www.plainlanguage.gov/


How Plain Language Makes Life Simpler

If writing in plain language interests you, watch this TED Talk.



Visit the Plain Language website and review all of the guidelines. You will find information on how to:

  • Write for your audience
  • Organize the information
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Be concise
  • Keep it conversational
  • Design for reading
  • Follow web standards
  • Test your assumptions



Plain language tips

  • Be conversational and use pronouns to speak directly to your reader: “We care about your privacy” not “The New Town Library cares about your privacy”
  • Add useful headings: “What information do we collect?” 
  • Be concise and descriptive 
  • Avoid jargon and minimize abbreviations



Understanding your audience is the first step in writing your policy. You need to understand who will be reading so that you can write for them. A privacy policy written for third-grade students at an elementary school library will look different from the one written for college students at a university. However, any policy should be written in plain language that delivers your message clearly.

Consider your privacy policy and answer the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?

  • What does my audience need to know?

  • What’s the best outcome for my library? What do I need to say to get this outcome?

  • What does my audience already know about library privacy?

  • What questions will my audience have?

  • What’s the best outcome for our audience? What do I need to say to get this outcome?