'What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate': The Plain Writing Act of 2010

44 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2015

See all articles by Rachel Stabler

Rachel Stabler

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: 2014


Lawyers — including those writing for the government — have long been criticized for using language that the general population cannot easily understand. In what was seen as a victory for the plain language movement, Congress passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 to help solve this problem. Although many laws existed requiring plain language in the private sector, the Act was the first law of its kind to require the government itself to use plain language in its communications with the public. While the Act has done some good, this article demonstrates that it has largely failed to achieve its goal of clear government communication. Instead, a close analysis of covered documents published since the Act took effect demonstrates that the government continues to use the same complicated legal language that it has always used. The reason for the Act’s failure is that it lacks any oversight and enforcement; it relies on the public to enforce its mandate, but the public is not aware that the Act exists. If Congress is serious about ensuring that the government communicates with its constituents in a way that they understand, it needs to amend the Act to provide additional oversight and enforcement that will help ensure that government agencies take its mandate seriously.

Keywords: plain language, plain writing act

Suggested Citation

Stabler, Rachel, 'What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate': The Plain Writing Act of 2010 (2014). Journal of Legislation, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 280-323, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2574207

Rachel Stabler (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

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