Writing for the Web

This is general guidance for English and Spanish content. See the end of each section for any additional Spanish guidance. 

Tone

Information that comes from USAGov has a friendly and inviting tone, and conveys authority and trust. We're building a relationship with the people we serve as their official and authoritative source of government information.

On our websites, we avoid using slang, incomplete sentences, irony, or idioms to “be cool” or sound “modern.” This type of content isn't clear to some people with cognitive impairments or to some non-native language speakers.

  • Use: Are you looking for tax forms?
  • Not: Looking for tax forms?

Voice

  • Use active voice.
    • Write: “Use active voice to write for USAGov.”
    • Don’t Write: “Active voice must be used when writing for USAGov.”
  • Use gender neutral text as long as it is grammatically correct: “them,” “their,” “they” (English only).
  • When writing for the web, use you or your instead of the public, or the citizen. Also use you or your (second person narrative) rather than we, our, or us (first person narrative). 
    • Spanish: Use Usted for the website andfor social media (FB and Twitter).

Plain Language Principles: It’s the Law! 

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to create “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” These tips can help you meet that mandate:

  • Write clear and concise sentences. Use as few words as possible, but enough so people can easily understand your message the first time through.
  • Use action verbs when possible. Examples:
    • Contact your elected official.
    • File your taxes before April 15.
    • Find more information about traveling with children. 
  • Be inclusive, and avoid jargon only certain audiences would understand, unless you are writing only for them.
  • Use acronyms only when they're meaningful to the reader. More people recognize "FBI" than the "Federal Bureau of Investigation," for example.
  • Organize text in small sections separated by sub-headers.
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists to organize information.
  • Spanish: Avoid using historical present (presente histórico) verb tense. It may be confusing to people with low literacy or cognitive disabilities. 

Find more detailed tips, tools, and examples from the Federal Plain Language Guidelines and from the plain language section of the 18F Content Guide

Share This Page: Facebook Twitter Email

Back to Top

Last Updated: April 20, 2016

Do you need help?

Ask us any question about the U.S. government for free. We'll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.

What you think matters!