A Short History of the Center for Plain Language

Posted on Jan 3, 2017 in Board News, Center News

Center LogoAs we look ahead to 2017, let’s take a look back at where we began.

How did the Center begin?

In the mid-1990s, a group of federal Plain Language advocates met monthly in Washington, DC. We called ourselves PEN – the Plain English Network. In 2000, we changed the name to PLAIN – the Plain Language Action and Information Network. And PLAIN still exists today.

However, some PLAIN members knew we also needed a different type of organization that could include folks outside the government to help us spread the plain language message. We wanted the Center to include communicators from all walks of life, such as academics, consultants, healthcare organizations, and the business community.

So, in 2003, Annetta Cheek took the lead and registered the Center for Plain Language as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The founders were Annetta, Ginny Redish, Susan Kleimann, Joe Kimble, Joanne Locke, John Strylowski and Melodee Mercer. Our first big accomplishment was to co-sponsor the 2005 PLAIN International conference in Washington, DC, where 300 people from 7 countries attended.

Our goal was – and still is — to help government agencies and businesses write so clearly that everyone understands what they are saying the first time they read or hear it.

Our mission is to champion clear communication so people and organizations can thrive.

Our vision is to create a culture of Clarity
Every audience * Every format * Every time

What does the Center do?

  • Hold training workshops on plain language topics
    • In Washington, DC annually in conjuntion with the ClearMark awards
    • In other parts of the country, where we work with local co-sponsors
  • Advocate for the passage of legislation that promotes plain language
  • Grade government agencies’ writing with annual Report Cards
  • Celebrate best examples of plain language and design with annual ClearMark Awards (since 2010)
  • Publicize bad writing with the WonderMark awards
  • Connect people who care about clear communication
  • Provide opportunities for members and colleagues to learn new skills and grow professionally

What are the Center’s most important accomplishments?

– Advocated the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (targeted at agencies that provide a benefit or service to citizens, such as SSA, IRS, Medicare, VA)

– Co-sponsored and organized two international conferences in Washington, DC.

How can members and others get involved?

– Advocacy: Help us get plain language bills passed at the national and state levels.

– Demand to understand: Speak up about bad writing. Submit a document for a WonderMark award.

– Network: We connect companies and consultants.

– Join us: Come to our events and meet kindred souls

– Support: Show your support by becoming a member and get discounts for events

– Help us: Volunteer to help with a Center project, such as the ClearMark awards, the report card, or the website.

About the author:

Joanne Locke was a bureaucrat for nearly 30 years; now she is plain language consultant. She is also one of the co-founders of the Center for Plain Language. When she’s not editing documents, she’s happiest spending time as a volunteer at her local animal shelter.