The U.S. government cares about good copywriting

November 12, 2021 , I learned...

Well, there’s at least a few folks in the U.S. government that care about it. A group that calls itself the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) apparently exists, and has been meeting since the 1990s. They even have an entire website dedicated to avoiding overcomplicated terminology in favor of “plain” language (get it?).

I’m shaking my head at how long it took me to find this. As someone who cares a lot about copywriting, I believe I have a pretty decent pulse on it. This website was initially launched in 1994, which makes me wonder how I could have possibly missed it.

But here it is and I’m glad it exists. There’s a wealth of resources over there, like a complete set of plain language guidelines that is broken into digestible sections centered around principles, including “choose your words carefully” and “keep it conversational,” among others.

My favorite section is how to design for reading. It’s especially to understand how content and design enhance one another. Some tips in there that caught my eye:

  • Keep the number of content sections to five or six.
  • Creating useful headings for easy scanning.
  • Use lists and tables to make data more legible.
  • Typography should be simple.
  • Use the right type of text formatting in the correct places (e.g. when to use italics instead of bolding, and vice versa).

I like how there’s even an entire page dedicated to different types of testing to help make better content decisions.