Plain Language Crash Course: Principles and Best Practices

Rachel Ware, BA, Mission Partners, Rockville, MD


Mission Partners is a women-owned strategic communications firm and certified B Corporation, as well as the supporting agency for the Public Health Communications Collaborative. Since 2021, the Mission Partners team has worked with PHCC to produce valuable resources for public health communicators—including Answers to Tough Questions, communications tools like “Building Bridges,” and outreach materials to bolster communications capacity of key audiences.

As a Senior Strategist at Mission Partners, a women-owned strategic communications firm and certified B Corporation, Rachel Ware supports clients across sectors to apply plain language principles while creating communications materials that are resonant, authentic, compelling, and accessible.

Program background:

Plain language is communication that is clear, accessible, and useful. In February 2023, PHCC developed the Plain Language for Public Health guide, aiming to build the skills of public health communicators in creating clear, accessible communications materials. The guide contains four sections, each with practical insights about plain language best practices.

A contributor to the guide, communications consultant Rachel Ware will present key principles and tactical recommendations for creating plain language materials that panel attendees can begin using right away. The presentation will share plain language best practices at each step of the process: preparing, writing, organizing, and testing materials. Similar to the guide, the presentation will offer A/B examples that help panel attendees understand how plain language principles are applied in practice and specific tactics that make communications more effective. The presentation will also provide recommendations for how to navigate common obstacles in creating plain language materials across subject matter and platform.

Evaluation Methods and Results:

PHCC regularly develops surveys to understand what public health communications resources its audience seeks. Following the release of the Plain Language for Public Health guide in February, PHCC deployed a survey to hear how its audience is applying the guide in practice. In additional to overall enthusiasm for refreshing and advancing plain language skills, survey respondents shared stories about how they have incorporated plain language best practices across their organizations, their coursework with public health students, and other public health partners.


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Implications for research and/or practice:

Any communicator at any skill-level can use plain language principles to make materials clearer and more effective. Plain language principles can be applied at every step of message development and materials creation, across platform and media, and in both internal and external communications. Communicating in plain language is a fundamental skill that can help people make themselves and their messages understood, used, and shared—ultimately moving missions forward.