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President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law on Oct. 13, 2010, requiring all federal agencies use "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."  In keeping with the letter and the spirit of the new law, the FCC is committed to writing new documents in plain language using the federal plain language guidelines.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 (PDF) required the agency to use plain writing in all documents covered by the law starting Oct. 13, 2011.  "Covered documents" are defined as ones that:

  • are necessary for obtaining any federal government benefit or service,
  • provide information about any federal government benefit or service, or
  • explain to the public how to comply with a requirement that the federal government administers or enforces. 

A "covered document" can be in paper or electronic form.  The term includes letters, forms, publications, notices and instructions.  "Covered documents" also include material on this website, even if that material is not published in paper form.

"Plain writing" is defined as “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience," according to final guidance (PDF) from the Office of Management and Budget, issued April 13, 2011.

Training and Compliance Milestones

The act included a number of milestones to be met by an initial deadline of July 13, 2011. Those milestones were achieved by the following actions:

  • Naming Howard Parnell, the chief of Web and Print Publishing, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, as our senior official for plain writing.
  • Training 880 FCC staff members between May and July 2011 who were identified by their managers as document creators, editors and reviewers.
  • Communicating the requirements of the act to training participants during the day-long training sessions.
  • Launching this Plain Writing Act section of
  • Informing all FCC staff of the requirements of the act via an internal communication from the chief of the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau.
  • Publishing and distributing the FCC University "Plain Language Workbook: Five Steps to Clear, Effective Communications for the Federal Communications Commission. The workbook is available for download and in the PDF viewer below:

Ongoing Compliance

Our April 2013 compliance report is available here

Initial milestones were met as of October 2011:

  • Successful training efforts were expanded to include additional instruction specific to document reviewers and editors from all FCC bureaus and offices.
  • Trained staff members in each bureau and office are responsible for making sure plain language is used in new or substantially revised documents covered by the Plain Writing Act, in keeping with the OMB guidance.
  • An advisory group drawn from senior officials throughout the commission is responsible for overseeing ongoing compliance with the act. Led by the designated senior official for plain writing, the committee's tasks include developing and maintaining editorial style guidelines; conducting periodic document reviews; overseeing plain writing training efforts; and producing periodic compliance reports such as this one.

Discussion and Feedback

We need your help to ensure the FCC's compliance with the Plain Writing Act of 2010 -- not simply because we are required to do so, but because clear communication is good government.  If you have questions or suggestions, please let us know. Join the discussion below, drop us an email or do both:

Plain Writing Resources

Reviewed: April 15, 2013

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