Plain Writing and Its Benefits

subscribe to page updates

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has an important mission. We regulate, license, and oversee the Nation's civilian use of nuclear materials to protect both people and the environment. Because this mission is so important, we want you to be informed about — and have a reasonable opportunity to participate meaningfully in — our activities. We see plain writing as a key to achieving that goal. After all, how can you become informed and involved if you don't understand what we say and write? More importantly, why should you trust us to achieve our mission if we can't clearly communicate important concepts?

If you can't say it simply, you probably don't understand it.
— Albert Einstein

To learn more about plain writing and its benefits, see the following topics on this page:

Why Plain Writing Matters

Every day, NRC managers and staff make decisions that ultimately affect the health and safety of people and the environment. We know that if we fail to effectively communicate these decisions, we complicate our mission and compromise public confidence.

We also know you're as busy as we are, and you don't want to waste a lot of time "translating" complex, jargon-filled documents. Plain writing is good public service and makes life easier for all of us. It saves time and aggravation by helping you to understand our message or complete our forms. It also helps to ensure that our licensees can clearly understand our regulatory guidance and comply with our requirements.

When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
— Cicero

Although no one knows the true cost of poor communication, the available information suggests it's high. It isn't easy to explain complex technical concepts in plain language, but it pays off in positive results like increased public confidence, licensee compliance, and enhanced safety and security.

What Plain Writing Is… and Isn't

In its Final Guidance on Implementing the Act, dated April 13, 2011, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated that “plain writing is writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and consistent with other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Such writing avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity.”

The NRC takes that definition a step further. We believe that plain writing is communication our intended audience can easily understand Satirical cartoon rendering of the 'Central Subcommittee Steering Group for the Facilitation of Brevity & Clarity of Language Usage in the User/Provider Communication Interface (Formerly the Plain English Group)' the first time they read or hear it. It's not overly casual or unprofessional, and it doesn't strip out necessary technical details to "dumb down" the information or "talk down" to the reader.

We realize that language that is plain to some readers may not be plain to others. We know we've succeeded, however, if our writing enables our intended audience to —

  • Find what they need;
  • Understand what they find; and
  • Use what they find to meet their needs.