FDA Celebrates Plain Writing Act

peanut butter

Is your peanut butter safe?  Is it safe to order drugs online?  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates products that we use everyday – food, human and animal drugs, dietary supplements, medical devices, vaccines, tobacco – the list sometimes seems endless.

The FDA shares information about these products every day, so it’s essential that they write clearly so you can understand and use their information easily to protect your health. (more…)

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Report finds mixed progress on plain language

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Report finds mixed progress on plain language

The first review since agencies were required to create plans for cutting the “bureaucrat-ese” from their dealings with the public found mixed results at many agencies. The Center for Plain Language, a group that advocates for clear writing in government documents, released a scorecard this week marking agency progress meeting requirements under the 2010 Plain Writing Act.

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Who makes the grade? Plain language report cards for federal agencies

USDA Gets an “A;” VA Gets an “F” on First Plain Writing Act Report Card Released Today by the Center for Plain Language

Rep. Braley and the Center for Plain Language Release Report Card Grades at Telephone News Briefing


Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture received an “A” and the Veterans’ Administration received an “F” on the first Plain Writing Act Report Card released today by the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization dedicated to clear communication in government, business, non-profits, and universities. (more…)

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Mortgage disclosures in plain language

Report cover imageFor the past year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, working with Kleimann Communications Group, has run extensive usability testing with consumers throughout the U.S. on the proposed new mortgage disclosure form. This form combines the original Truth in Lending disclosure and the Good Faith Estimate into a single three-page disclosure. Because purchasing a home is likely to be the most expensive and daunting purchase most of us will ever make, it’s critical that we receive clear, usable information that will allow us to compare rates from one lender to another and know exactly the fees we are paying. This new form will help us do that. (more…)

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Federal Agencies to Receive Grades on Their Adherence to the Plain Writing Act

Apple with A+ on itHow well are federal agencies adhering to the Plain Writing Act? The Center for Plain Language is issuing a “report card” grading several federal agencies on how well they are implementing the Act. The results will be released at a telephone news briefing on Thursday, July 19, 12 noon, featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (IA), the main sponsor of the Act, and Annetta L. Cheek, PhD, chair of the Center for Plain Language, the nonprofit organization grading the federal agencies.


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How Much is Plain Language Worth?

Writing for Dollars book coverJoe Kimble, professor of law at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, has just finished his long awaited new book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law. Carolina Academic Press, which also published his earlier book Lifting the Fog of Legalese, is the publisher.

The book sets out the elements of plain language, debunks the 10 biggest myths about it, summarizes 40 historical highlights, and summarizes 50 (no less) studies on the benefits of plain language for everyone–readers, writers, businesses, and government agencies.


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The Plain Regulations Act, HR 3786: Making Federal Regulations Accessible

On January 18, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Plain Regulations Act. Braley also introduced the Plain Writing Act, which became law on October 13, 2010, with strong bipartisan support. The original draft of that Act had covered regulations, but the provision was deleted during the legislative process because of opposition from several sources. (more…)

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“Summary of Benefits and Coverage” Brings Clarity to Health Plan

At last, consumers will have a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” as a standardized, plain language tool to understand their health plans. Under a rule announced last week by HHS, health insurers are now required to provide consumers with clear, consistent, and comparable summary information.  Here’s the link:

Testing by Consumers’ Union showed that consumers could use the standardized health information, but the two scenarios about having a baby and treating Type 2 diabetes gave them a better sense of what was covered and the value of health insurance. These scenarios, formatted much like the Nutrition Facts label with plain language a key component, show consumers what proportion of the cost of care a health insurance policy or plan would cover and will help consumers compare across health plans they are considering. One test participant talked about the scenarios as “putting furniture in an empty house” so she could see how she would “live” in the policy.

“All consumers, for the first time, will really be able to clearly comprehend the sometimes confusing language insurance plans often use in marketing,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “This will give them a new edge in deciding which plan will best suit their needs and those of their families or employees.”

The new explanations, which will be available beginning, or soon after, September 23, 2012, will be a critical resource for the roughly 150 million Americans with private health insurance today.

Stakeholders as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and a working group composed of health insurance-related consumer advocacy organizations, health insurers, health care professionals, patient advocates including those representing people with limited English proficiency, and others helped to develop the Summary and scenarios. The Center for Plain Language wrote a letter to OMB to support the approval of this important plain language document.

Let us know how you like the Summary!

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What’s in the President’s hand?

President Barack Obama holds up a proposed mortgage application form

President Barack Obama holds up a proposed mortgage application form as he speaks at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (Credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

If you’ve ever bought a house, you probably remember the pages and pages of documents you signed. You probably wished they could be clearer and make more sense.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) thinks these forms can be clearer, too. They’ve been working on a new standard for mortgage disclosures — those forms that summarize the costs of a home loan.

The CFPB project, Know Before You Owe, has collected input from thousands of people in both in-person usability testing and through online comments collected on their web site.

In a story on CBS News, we found a photo of President Obama holding a version of the proposed form. Here’s what CBS News reported about the President’s comments:

“The president recalled his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s experience buying their first home together – a process he described, humorously, as so complicated that the two of them would end up looking through the forms and asking “what does this phrase mean?”

“And that’s, you know, for two trained lawyers,” he laughed.

He held up a one-page mock-up of what he wants such forms to look like in the future, and pointed to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) as a means to achieving that end. …

The goal, he said, was to make things “simple, not complicated,” to protect consumers from getting “cheated.”

“Terms are clear. Fees are transparent,” he said.”

That’s plain language at work!

Obama unveils mortgage refinancing plan by Lucy Madison, CBS News Political Hotsheet, February 1, 2012

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Braley Tackles Regulations

When the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was passed, regulations were not included as part of the Act. That is, the federal government now has to write information that explain benefits and services in plain language, but regulations were omitted. But Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who sponsored the PWA, is back at it. He has introduced Plain Regulations Act (H.R. 3786), to require that regulations be written in plain language.

Why is this another important law?

Small businesses, in particular, waste millions of dollars hiring attorneys or trying to figure out themselves how to comply with regulations they don’t understand. Such overly complex and incomprehensible rules add to an inability to comply.

Braley wants to change that.  As he says:

“Whether you like or loathe government regulations, I think everyone can agree that when ne exists it should be written as clearly as possible.  Sadly, gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.

“The Plain Regulations Act would simplify rules, saving small businesses time and freeing up money that can be better used investing in growing the business and creating jobs.

“Simplifying regulations won’t eliminate the costs of compliance, but it will reduce them.  And it’s an easy way to save small businesses money that can quickly attract bipartisan support.”

If you’re not convinced, imagine figuring out what this regulation from the construction industry means:

“On or after July 6, 2010, all renovations must be performed in accordance with the work practice standards in §745.85 and the associated recordkeeping requirements in §745.86(b)(1) and (b)(6) in target housing or child-occupied facilities, unless the renovation qualifies for the exception identified in §745.82(a)” with the sub-exception that “emergency renovations are not exempt from the cleaning requirements of §745.85(a)(5), which must be performed by certified renovators or individuals trained in accordance with §745.90(b)(2), the cleaning verification requirements of §745.85(b), which must be performed by certified renovators, and the recordkeeping requirements of §745.86(b)(6) and (b)(7).”

That gave me a headache.

Watch for opportunities to comment on the new bill. Be ready to write/phone/email your Congress people. Share this news with all small businesses. And let Rep. Braley know you appreciate all his efforts on our behalf.

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Center for Plain Language (

Printed April 21, 2014


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