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The NRC's Plain Writing Philosophy, Techniques, and Guidance

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) views nuclear regulation as your business, so we believe we should conduct our regulatory activities as openly and candidly as possible to maintain and enhance your confidence. We want you to be informed about our activities and have a reasonable opportunity to participate meaningfully in our regulatory, licensing, and oversight processes. We see plain writing as a key to achieving that goal.

Although, I’m new to the NRC, I do have a Ph.D. in geology, and an extensive background in nuclear policy issues. So, if I am bewildered by all these acronyms, imagine how a random member of the public would feel. And if the public can’t understand what we are saying, how can we expect them to have confidence in what we do?
— NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane

For additional information, see the following topics on this page:

Our Plain Writing Philosophy

The following pages highlight the overarching philosophy for Plain Writing at the NRC:

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Our Plain Writing Techniques

To realize our vision of plain writing for our stakeholders, we use the following writing techniques (among others):

  • Identify the intended audience and what they want and need to know.
  • Omit unnecessary details.
  • Organize information logically, with the reader in mind.
  • Explain how the document is organized and how to use it.
  • Provide general information first, and add specific details as needed.
  • Use descriptive headings to help readers find specific information.
  • Provide effective transitions between paragraphs to connect related concepts.
  • Describe processes in chronological order.
  • Use parallel structure in lists.
  • Use simple, concise language with short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Simplify complex sentences that contain too many ideas.
  • Eliminate ambiguities, contradictions, redundancy, and wordiness.
  • Use the “active” voice with action verbs and present tense.
  • Eliminate jargon and use common, everyday words when possible.
  • Define technical terms when they must be used.
  • Choose words that accurately and precisely convey the message.
  • Use pronouns (you, we, and so forth) to engage the reader.
  • Minimize the use of acronyms, abbreviations, and symbols, and use them consistently when they’re essential.
  • Use correct syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Verify the accuracy of references and cross-references.

No one technique defines plain writing. Rather, plain writing is defined by results — it’s easy to read, understand, and use.

Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.
— William Penn

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Our Plain Writing Guidance

The following table lists policy and guidance documents that we’ve developed to help us use plain language to write documents and information for our public Web site. We follow this agency-specific guidance in addition to the Federal Plain Language Guidelines and Writing for the Web/Plain Language.

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Document ID (or Date) Document Type Title/Description
05/01/2000 Correspondence (Internal) Memorandum from William D. Travers, Executive Director of Operations, re: “Communication Activities”
MD 3.5 Management Directive/Handbook Attendance at NRC Staff Sponsored Meetings
MD 3.7 Management Directive/Handbook NUREG-Series Publications
(see Handbook Section 2.6.1, “NRC’S Plain Language and Editorial Guidelines”)
MD 3.14 Management Directive/Handbook U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Web Site
MD 3.57 Management Directive/Handbook Correspondence Management
Glossary Public Web Site Glossary of Nuclear Terms
NUREG-0544 NUREG-Series Publication NRC Collection of Abbreviations
NUREG-1379 NUREG-Series Publication NRC Editorial Style Guide
IMC 0040 Inspection Manual Chapter Preparing, Revising, and Issuing Documents for the NRC Inspection Manual
NUREG/BR-0053 NUREG-Series Publication NRC Regulations Handbook (Rev. 6): See the section on Plain Language in Chapter 3 (p. 25)
NUREG/BR-0308 NUREG-Series Publication Effective Risk Communication: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Guidelines for External Risk Communication
NUREG/BR-0318 NUREG-Series Publication Effective Risk Communication: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Guidelines for Internal Risk Communication
NUREG/CR-6840 NUREG-Series Publication The Technical Basis for the NRC's Guidelines for External Risk Communication

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, November 15, 2013