This guideline section is required (normative).

Clear Language How-To Guidance

Use clear language to make it easier for readers to understand.

The following tabbed sections contain helpful information, but are not required (informative).

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Clear language combines strategies from plain language and simple language that research shows improves the experience of individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities. Clear language helps create more accessible content. It helps people understand what is important and what to do with the information they read. This includes guidance on word choice, language structure, instructions, and use of numbers and symbols.

Writing and editing in plain language means using:


Who it helps

There are many types of disabilities that can make it harder to read, including a large range of cognitive and learning disabilities, mental health conditions, aging-related conditions, and cognitive impacts of some chronic or other health conditions.

Not all individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities have the same needs. Difficulties with reading vary by disability but also by individual. It’s important not to make assumptions. Many people with disabilities can understand specialized or complex information, but they may benefit from the same principles of clear language.

Clear language generally helps everyone, especially people who may have difficulty reading due to disability. Reading may also be more difficult when tired, distracted, under stress, with low-literacy, when working outside one’s first language (such as with some sign language users), or when vision is impaired.

Difficulties with reading may be related to challenges with:




To Be Done (TBD)


Planning Responsibilities

  1. Prior to finalizing the project budget, consider possible costs associated with developing accessible content, written in clear language.
  2. During project planning, coordinate efforts with the project team to organize and schedule the approach to creating content written in clear language. Considerations to discuss:
    • If possible, secure content authors or editors with experience writing in plain language
    • Direct content authors to the clear language guideline
    • Provide training on how to develop content that uses clear language (also called plain language) principles as explained in the Write tab.
    • Determine if you will create a style guide to clearly communicate the unique needs of your content. The style guide follows the guidance in this a href="section4">Write tab tab.
    • Plan and schedule iterative clear language quality assurance checks throughout the project cycle. Schedule time for cycles of editing.
    • If your content requires legal review, bring in legal experts early so they agree with using clear language.
    • If your content uses a lot of technical terms, idioms, jargon, metaphors or sarcasm, plan the time to write clear language summaries.
    • You may need a glossary section to define terms. This will need to be designed and coded.

Tips for Collaboration


  1. Ensure that...
    • Headings levels are clearly organized and visually distinct
    • If needed, design visually distinct summaries before blocks of text
    • Style definitions to be visually prominent
    • Design glossary
    • Use white space appropriately (reference White Space guideline (TBD)
    • Make it easy for users to scan blocks of text
    • Visually organize the levels of the headings
    • Make it easy to find definitions and summaries.
    • If possible, use in-line definitions so the user can get to the definition in one click and return to their place in one click. Usually this is done with a modal (popup) with a close button, which can be an X is upper right.

HOW - Guide:

TBD: Link to Style Guide(s)

TBD: Links to Video (Embedded or Links)

Designer Tips:

User Testing & Meaningful Involvement:



Editorial Responsibilities

The following is a clear language checklist to use when writing and editing.

Words and Phrases:





Numbers and Symbols:


Technical Responsibilities

  1. Ensure that inline definitions are accessible by:
    • Make inline definitions keyboard accessible
    • Once activated (either by keyboard or hover), ensure definitions remain open until the user closes them. (EDNOTE: Look at BBC rules for hover on mobile).
    • Make definitions visually distinct from a link.
    • Design one click to the definition and one click return.
    • When inline definition are displayed in a modal, all the accessibility requirements of a modal should be included, such as: disable the background text (use a modal display) and ensure that background text is covered or blurred so people aren't confused between foreground and background text, and that the keyboard focus remains in the modal until it is closed.

    Examples & Demo:

    Video (Embedded or Links) (TBD)


Testing Responsibilities

Because language is used in many ways for many different purposes,we do not recommend prescriptive testing. Needs vary between languages. The best way to test this guideline is with an editor who is trained in plain language techniques within the language being used.

  1. Ensure that the recommendations for clear language in the Write tab are implemented in a way that increases comprehension.
  2. Clear language is not just a rote implementation of rules. The results of clear language should improve comprehension for everyone, particularly people with cognitive and learning disabilities. The rules should guide without being prescriptive. As a result, clear language benefits from user testing but it is not required.

Auto-Testing Tips:

Use a grammar checker and spell checker. Manually confirm that the error corrections and suggestions make sense.

Manual Testing Tips:

See the Test tab within the Method for Edit Text for Clear Language

Testing with Users: