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Plain Language Checklist

Format

  • Did you number all pages, sections, and numbered lists correctly?
  • Did you format all bulleted lists consistently?
  • Did you properly label all tables?
  • Did you separate all sentences by one space (not two)?

Grammar

  • Did you use active voice—not passive voice—throughout the document?
  • Did you use verbs in present tense whenever possible?
  • Did you use gender-neutral language whenever possible?
  • Did you use “must” rather than “shall” or “should” to indicate requirements?
  • Did you place subjects and objects close to their verbs?
  • Did you keep modifiers close to the words they are modifying?
  • Did you place long conditions after the main clause, not before?
  • Did you use parallel construction in your sentences?

Readability

  • Did you organize the document in a way that’s easy to follow?
  • Did you divide the narrative section of the document into short sections with clear, concise headings?
  • Do your paragraphs average less than seven lines?
  • Did you limit each paragraph to one topic?
  • Did you keep sentences short (averaging 15-20 words per sentence)?
  • Did you spell out all acronyms on first use?
  • If there are enough to justify it, did you provide an acronym list?
  • Did you use “you” (referring to the reader) and “we” (referring to the U.S. Department of Transportation or the mode or office)?
  • Did you use simple, everyday language (no jargon, stilted, or wordy language) while avoiding slang?
  • Did you define all pronouns in the context in which they are used, clearly referring to a specific noun?
  • Did you avoid using “noun sandwiches” – long strings of nouns used as adjectives (e.g. “railroad safety inspection protocol report checklist”)?  
  • Did you check the document for spelling, grammar, and readability?
Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2013