Plain Text Act Assignment

Assignments, Resources

Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels.

This assignment focuses on writing and editing for concision and clarity, particularly in the context of “public” writing. In 2010, the U.S. government put into place the Plain Writing Act, which “requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” You can listen to a federal government employee talk about this act and its impact on his writing at work here [link to excerpt from graphic design manager at unnamed agency]. For this assignment, you’ll explore the guidelines for government employees set out in this law, and then you’ll explore government documents with these guidelines in mind.

  1. Read the guidelines (linked on the left of this page of the Plain Writing Act website).
  2. Online, find two public government documents from two different government agencies. For instance, you might look at a report from the Department of Labor about women, trauma, and disability in the workforce. You could examine the State Department’s report on Global Food Security. Or you might choose to read about one of the many research initiatives at the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Any two federal documents will work.
  3. Read your two documents and write a paragraph for each summarizing the content. What is this text about? What’s its purpose? Is it making an argument or is it simply informative? Who is the audience and how can you tell?
  4. Then, critique the writing in your two documents in the framework of the Plain Writing Act. In what ways do the texts adhere to the act? Are there places that, perhaps, seem not to be written according to these guidelines? Provide examples in your (approximately 800-word) analysis.

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