Plain Language Checklist
A document, web site or other information is in plain language if…
The Basic Approach specifies and considers who will use it, why they will use it, and what tasks they will do with it. Consider if the basic approach:
- Identifies the audiences and is clearly created for them.
- Focuses on the major audiences and their top questions and tasks.
- Does not try to be everything to everyone.
The Design reinforces meaning and makes it easier for the audience to see, process, and use the information. Consider if the design:
- Organizes the information in a sequence that’s logical for the audience.
- Uses layout to make information easy to find, understand, and use.
- Uses principles of good design – including appropriate typography, font size, line spacing, color, white space, and so on.
- Uses visuals to make concepts, information, and links easier to see and understand.
- For online information, minimizes the number of levels.
- For online information, layers information appropriately, avoiding too much on one page.
The Structure is well-marked so the audience can find the information it needs. Consider if the structure:
- Uses many informative headings to guide the audience to the key information most important to them.
- Helps the audience to quickly complete tasks.
- Breaks content into topics and subtopics that match the audience’s needs for information.
- For a document, minimizes cross-references.
The Hierarchy helps the audience distinguish between critical and less important information. Consider if the hierarchy:
- Puts the most important information first.
- Omits unnecessary information.
- Uses visual design and language to distinguish between main points and supportive detail.
- Uses advance organizers for the whole and at the section, paragraph, and sentence level to give the audience a frame for subsequent information.
The Language minimizes jargon and uses sentence structure, strong verbs, word choice, and other similar techniques to ensure the audience can read, understand, and use the information. Consider if the language:
- Has a conversational style—rather than a stuffy, bureaucratic style.
- Is simple and direct without being too informal.
- Uses reasonably short sections, paragraphs, and sentences.
- Uses sentence structure, especially the verbs, to emphasize key information.
- Uses transitions to show the link between ideas, sections, paragraphs, or sentences.
- Puts titles, headings, and lists in parallel form.
- Uses words familiar to the audience.
- For online information, matches the text of links to the page title the link points to.
The Author—whether an individual or an organization—creates a sense of reliability and trustworthiness. Consider if the author:
- Demonstrates a concern for the audience.
- Anticipates the questions and needs of the audience.
- Uses an appropriate tone for the audience.
- Provides a revision date to show the age of the information.
- Shows how to get additional information.
The Testing conducted is appropriate for the combined impact, importance, and type and number of the audience. Consider if testing:
- Needed to be done.
- Was done.
- Was sufficiently and appropriately robust.
For the Overall assessment, consider if the audience overall can:
- Understand the main purpose and message.
- Complete the task.
- See how the design and the substantive content reinforce each other.
- Scan to find information.
- Follow the language easily.