The power of plain language helps DHW fulfill its mission

February 27, 2024
IDHW Communications

In a world filled with complex information, the ability to communicate effectively is invaluable. Writing in plain language is a skill that ensures your message is clear, concise, and easily understood by a diverse audience.

This is why Goal 4 of DHW’s Strategic Plan includes a task to “Expand the use of plain language throughout DHW to be audience-specific and to improve the customer experience.” And this work ”…will be a collaborative effort between the divisions preparing written communications and the Office of Communications.

Plain language makes it easier for the public to read, understand, and use government communications the first time they read or hear it. As a state agency, it’s critical for us to make sure people trust and understand what we tell them so they can make well-informed decisions about their lives.

DHW is committed to using plain language to improve communications with Idahoans. The Strategic Plan task will use a Microsoft Word readability tool to gauge our progress on moving communications toward plain language standards throughout the year. This article explores some general principles of effective writing and provides examples you can try out right now.

Use Clear and Concise Sentences: Plain language emphasizes simplicity. Instead of using complex sentences, opt for shorter and direct ones. Example:

     Complex: "It is imperative that we take into consideration the various factors that contribute to the overall success of our project."

     Plain: "We need to consider factors for our project's success."

Avoid Jargon and Technical Terms: Jargon can alienate readers who are not familiar with specific terms. Use plain language to make your content accessible. Example:

     Technical: "Utilize the interface to configure the settings."

     Plain: "Use the menu to adjust the settings."

Use Active Voice: Active voice adds clarity and immediacy to your writing. Compare:

     Passive: "The report was written by the team."

     Active: "The team wrote the report."

Break Down Complex Ideas: When discussing complex ideas, break them down into simpler parts. Example:

     Complex: "The algorithm utilizes a neural network to process data and make predictions."

     Plain: "The system uses a smart network to analyze data and make predictions."

Engage the Reader: Involve your audience by using inclusive language and addressing them directly. For instance:

     Detached: "Customers are advised to follow the guidelines."

     Engaging: "Follow these guidelines to make the most of your experience."

Provide Examples: Concrete examples make abstract concepts more understandable. Example:

     Abstract: "Promote teamwork for better collaboration."

     Concrete: "Encourage everyone to share ideas and work together as a team."

Use Visuals and Formatting: Visual aids, bullet points, and headings break up text and enhance comprehension. Example:

     Text-only: Long paragraphs explaining steps.

     Visuals: Bulleted steps with an accompanying diagram.

Writing in plain language is an essential skill for effective communication. By embracing clarity, simplicity, and inclusivity, we can better reach our DHW audience and ensure that our message resonates with Idahoans from various backgrounds and levels of expertise. DHW is striving to practice these principles, so that our writing is a powerful tool that reaches the people who use our services.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at

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