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Content style guide

Plain language

Top 10 VA plain language standards

Follow these plain language standards to help Veterans and their families find and understand the information they need:

  • Use short sentences. Try to limit each sentence to one subject and verb when possible.
  • Use simple words and terms that are familiar to our primary audience: Veterans and their families.
  • Use active voice. Always connect an action to a subject. If there’s no subject taking responsibility for the verb, it’s likely passive voice.
  • Define complex terms if you must use them. Add a plain language definition in parentheses immediately following the term or in a separate sentence.
  • Use pronouns to speak to our audience in a personable and conversational voice. For example, address the Veteran as an individual with “you” and ”your.” Refer to VA with “we” and “our.”
  • Use contractions (like “don’t” instead of “do not”) to communicate with our audience in a conversational way.
  • Don’t use jargon. This includes bureaucratic and legal language as well as unnecessary acronyms and initialisms.
  • Don’t use idioms. Idioms can be confusing, especially for someone whose first language isn’t English.
  • Avoid branded names. Avoid or minimize references to branded program names. Describe the benefit instead. For example, use “educational and career counseling” to describe Personalized Career Planning and Guidance, PCPG, and Chapter 36.
  • Structure your content so it’s easy to follow. Instead of long paragraphs, chunk content using hierarchical headings (H2s and H3s), bulleted lists, process lists (like our design system’s subway map), and groups of accordion links.

“Avoiding vagueness and unnecessary complexity makes it easier for members of the public to understand and to apply for important benefits and services for which they are eligible. Plain writing can also assist the public in complying with applicable requirements simply because people better understand what they are supposed to do.”

— Final Guidance on Implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010

Last updated: May 22, 2023