Plain Language

Part of being accessible is being understandable to people who:

  • Speak other languages
  • Have a cognitive disability
  • Have never completed high school or attended college

We offer many FREE pre-recorded accessibility workshops via the WeLearnNYC platform. Here is a class so you can learn how to write in plain, everyday language! Find out how to register this and other classes at

The tips below are just a checklist. They are not intended to replace that training.

Make Sure People Understand

Check that you're writing at a grade 6-9 reading level. Need to lower the reading level? Use these tips:

Write Shorter Sentences

Sentences that scan many lines are hard to read--especially on the go!

  • Want to use a semi-colon? Make it a period instead.
  • Have a long list of examples? only use three.
  • Really need to list more items? Try formatting it as a bulled list.

Use Shorter Words

Short words are easier to scan. They are also more easily understood — both by humans and machines (like online translators and search engines). For example:

  • "use" not "utilize"
  • "help" not "benefit"
  • "clear" not "apparent"

Write in the Active Voice

As our friends at point out:

  • Active voice makes it clear who is supposed to do what. It removes all ambiguity about who is responsible.
    • Not “It must be done,” but “You must do it.”
  • Passive voice hides who is responsible for what.
    • It's one of the biggest problems with government writing.

Tips for Writing in the Active Voice

Remove as many uses of "to be" as you can:

  • "Subway rats adore pizza," not "Pizza is adored by subway rats"
  • "Teachers take attendance," not "Attendance is taken by teachers"

Sometimes you have to change the word order:

  • "DOE staff make accessible documents," not " Documents have been ensured to be accessible by DOE staff."

Add Subheads

You can scan subheads to find the information you need--and skip over what you don't. Without them:

  • you work a lot harder to find what you need on the page
  • if you need a screen reader, you can't scan it at all. Instead, you have to read every word on the page.

Use Bullets 

Make sure you use the formatting tools in the design ribbon. Don't just put in a hyphen or an asterisk. If you have more than three things in a long sentence, bullet them. It makes it easier to scan and understand. That's probably why it also lowers the reading level.

Back to Top