U.S. Department of Education Plain Writing Initiative

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 [PDF, 153KB] requires federal agencies to write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." President Obama also emphasized the importance of establishing "a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration" in his Jan. 21, 2009, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.

We at the U.S. Department of Education are committed to writing new documents in plain language by October 2011, using the Federal Plain Language Guidelines.

We need your help to comply with the act. Let us know if you have trouble understanding our documents or the pages on our website (see "Add new comment" below).

Cynthia Dorfman, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations in the Office of Communications and Outreach, is the Plain Language Officer for the Department. Jacquelyn Zimmermann, Director of Editorial Policy, Print and Art Services, in the Department's Office of Communications and Outreach, has oversight responsibility for our plain language efforts. While we prefer that you comment on this page below to communicate with the Department of Education about the clarity of its products, you may also contact Jacquelyn at Jacquelyn.Zimmermann@ed.gov.

We're training our employees and strengthening our oversight process to ensure that you—the reader—will benefit from our products and services. To this end, we intend to use plain language in any document that:

  • is necessary for obtaining any federal government benefit or service;
  • provides information about any federal government benefit or service; or
  • explains to the public how to comply with a requirement that the federal government administers or enforces.

Please let us know if we haven't written a document in plain language by writing your comments below.

Publishing clear, useful information about our programs and services is one of our top priorities and an ongoing effort. As a user of our website, you may already be familiar with some of our publications and know that they cover a broad swath. Are you looking for information about federal student aid? What U.S. K-12 students should know and be able to do in major academic subjects? Notices inviting grant applications? Research-based tips to help your children learn? You can find all this and more at www.ed.gov and at http://www.edpubs.gov as well as at http://www.ed.gov/news/fedregister.

As mentioned above, we invite your help in ensuring our information is clear and accessible to you, our customers. Please let us know if you find any of our documents or Web pages hard to understand. Be sure to give the title of the publication or URL if you're referring to a particular publication or Web page. Thank you in advance for your help in making us better at serving you.

You'll find on this Web page "U.S. Department of Education Plain Writing Act of 2010 Compliance Report, July 2012" [MS Word, 45KB]. We'd welcome your comments on this report as well via the "Add new comment" box below.

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Comments

I appreciate the effort that ED is making to conform with Obama's Plain Writing Act of 2010, but it really doesn't appear (in my opinion) that much is changing. I have to translate forms that should be quite easy to understand, which can make someone feel very poorly about themselves and their level of comprehension. I agree with one of the other commenters about using visual aids to help someone understand, and I think the writing needs to be made even more clear. This will be a big help, in that more of the population will be able to understand exactly what ED is and what it does.

I haven't found an official document yet that doesn't require knowledge of 'legaleze'. The websites associated with the education department, and most state departments that I have seen, do an excellent job of making the wording accessible. But, the main documents, the original documents, are almost always incomprehensible.

A good rule of thumb (pardon the expression) is that if you don't use the words in everyday speech, they are not necessary.

Honestly, my major complaint is that documents are released in one form, then edited/amended in another document. For example:

n page 13365, second column, the ``Date of Pre-Application
Meeting'' section is corrected to read ``Dates of Pre-Application
Meetings: April 4, 2011 at 9:00 a.m., Washington, DC time and April 5,
2011 at 2:00 p.m., Washington, DC time.''

That's a basic one, based on dates/times, so it's pretty easy to understand. But, when it deals with page 13365, who has attention enough to detail to make that change on their own? Why can't we update the original document, and strike-through the old-changes, if they need to be called to attention as existing in the past (not sure that sentence makes sense).

Adding links to links to links is ineffective and unnecessary. Just maintain one document, and fix what needs fixin'.

I cannot think of a single, easy, straightforward, "plain" ED publication, other than perhaps certain parts of the Federal Student Aid Handbook. The Dear Colleague letters, Request for Comments, and the entire IFAP webpage (despite improvements) are confounding. Drastic changes must be made, not minor improvements.

We use your Verification worksheets and have had to send them back to students regularly to complete Sections C & D. They don't seem to see that on Question #2 there is a -f. We require them to put zeros or an N/A to acknowledge that they looked at them. I understand you don't have any control over whether a student/parent looks at a question carefully and that the language you use is understandable. I'm just hoping maybe a note to answer each question even if it means putting a zero or N/A would possibly help.
Thanks for your consideration!

The federal registers are not the easiet to read. When new laws come in it would be nice to have it written once in logical order and the changes highlighted maybe so we can follow the text easier. We are having to refer to this area then this area and so forth.

Hello,

Even working in the education industry, we have difficulty interpreting what exactly the government is saying much less the general public trying to comprehend.

It would be helpful if the writer takes a look at the information as if they were not in the field before putting it out there and ask..... Do you understand? Is the communication clear enough?

Our objective should be to educate and inform "everyone" not just "the selected few".

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Myrtha D.

Part 668 - Student Assistance General Provisions
Subpart B - Standards for Participation in Title IV, HEA Programs
Sec. 668.22 Treatment of title IV funds when a student withdraws.

(a) General. (1) When a recipient of title IV grant or loan assistance withdraws from an
institution during a payment period or period of enrollment in which the recipient began
attendance, the institution must determine the amount of title IV grant or loan assistance that the
student earned as of the student's withdrawal date in accordance with paragraph (e) of this
section.
(2)(i) Except as provided in paragraphs (a)(2)(ii) and (a)(2)(iii) of this section, a student is
considered to have withdrawn from a payment period or period of enrollment if—
(A) In the case of a program that is measured in credit hours, the student does not
complete all the days in the payment period or period of enrollment that the student was
scheduled to complete;
(B) In the case of a program that is measured in clock hours, the student does not
complete all of the clock hours and weeks of instructional time in the payment period or period
of enrollment that the student was scheduled to complete; or
(C) For a student in a nonterm or nonstandard-term program, the student is not
scheduled to begin another course within a payment period or period of enrollment for more
than 45 calendar days after the end of the module the student ceased attending, unless the
student is on an approved leave of absence, as defined in paragraph (d) of this section.
(ii)(A) Notwithstanding paragraph (a)(2)(i)(A) and (a)(2)(i)(B) of this section, for a
payment period or period of enrollment in which courses in the program are offered in
modules—
(1) A student is not considered to have withdrawn if the institution obtains written
confirmation from the student at the time that would have been a withdrawal of the date that he
or she will attend a module that begins later in the same payment period or period of enrollment;
and
(2) For nonterm and nonstandard-term programs, that module begins no later than 45
calendar days after the end of the module the student ceased attending.

The guidance in (ii)(A)(1) makes it appear that institutions have an OPTIONI regarding obtaining written confirmation from a student. However, guidance from ED has stated that institutions MUST obtain written confirmation from a student of intent of attendance of a future modulle within the payment period in which the student is already enrolled.

In the pursuit of writing clear and simple regulations, please make it perfectly unambiguous as to the options an institution has.

You need to keep into consideration the ability of the general publics reading level. This document that you have posted continues to use words that some citizen may not understand the meaning of. If I remember correctly as I am not in journalism. News papers tend to write articles to the 10th grade reading level. This makes them easier to read but yet not to juvenile. With the drop out rate of some schools at 50% it will be hard to create documents that meet the needs of all the levels and ethnic cultural differences. Visual media may lend it self better to the dissemination of information to the general public.