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Plain Language Writing in USDA

Our Pledge to You

Hands typing on a keyboard

We at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) commit to improving our service to you by writing in plain language. We will use plain language in any new or substantially revised document that:

  • Provides information about any of our services and benefits;
  • Is needed to obtain any of our benefits or services; or,
  • Explains how to comply with a requirement that we administer or enforce.

We pledge to provide you with information that is clear, understandable, and useful in every paper or electronic letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction we publish.

Why We Make This Pledge

Our pledge keeps with our long-standing commitment to provide you with the information you need from us. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 (PDF, 123 KB) requires that all federal agencies write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."

We encourage you to read our Plain Writing Act Compliance Reports to learn about our plan and progress on ensuring compliance to the Act at USDA.

Plain Writing Resources for USDA Agencies and Offices

USDA uses two styles for publications and printing. Materials developed primarily for the mass-media are written using the latest Associated Press Stylebook. All other materials are written using the latest Government Printing Office (GPO) Style Manual in accordance with Title 44 U.S.C. § 1105. Form and style of work for departments. The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is the official interagency working group designated to assist in issuing plain writing guidance. The PLAIN website includes guidelines on plain language and tools for writing in plain language.

Two young workers using a laptop in a modern office

Foreign Language Translation Services and Preparing Content for Translation Software

USDA pledges to provide websites and other written material in plain language to make the translation to other languages easier and cheaper for the Federal Government and our customers. Agencies are advised to not rely solely on translation software, either as an expectation of external users or for our own translation of documents. However, translation services can verify any translation received from software. The United States is a multilingual Country. According to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau survey, nearly 68 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home. Each year the U.S. welcomes more than 800,000 new citizens from all over the world. President Biden’s Executive Order entitled, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, dated February 16, 2023, states, “Agencies shall consider opportunities to …. (e) improve accessibility for people with disabilities and improve language access services to ensure that all communities can engage with agencies’ respective civil rights offices, including by fully implementing Executive Order 13166 of August 11, 2000 (Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency).”

USDA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) leads the Departmental language access program in concert with programs managed at the mission area, agency, or staff office levels. Executive Order 13166 and Title VI provide meaningful access to USDA programs for members of the public who have limited English proficiency. Departmental Regulation 4330-005, dated June 4, 2013, establishes policies and procedures and requires each USDA agency to prepare a language access plan covering Federally conducted programs and activities, that include needs and capacity assessment; oral language assistance services; written translations; policies and procedures; notification of the availability of free language services; staff training; assessing accessibility, and quality.

USDA Limited English Proficiency Translation and Interpretation Services Guide

Names and Pronouns

Using an individual's correct pronouns is a powerful affirmation of self for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. It validates one's identity, encourages authenticity and builds inclusive and supportive cultures. USDA's correspondence and communication should aim to (1) adopt the use of gender-inclusive pronouns; and (2) normalize clarifying pronouns in communication to eliminate the possibility of misgendering individuals. As a default, the pronouns “they/them/their” should be used in USDA sponsored communications, outreach, and correspondence rather than "he/she pronouns, unless Program guidance specifically directs otherwise.

An individual communicates their pronouns. For example, “Hi my name is John Doe and my pronouns are he/him/his” instead of “Hi my name is John Doe.” A good practice is to inquire into an individual's preferred greeting. If they share, we must respect an individual's request. This also applies to non-written communication such as when interacting in person, via phone, and video calls.

Gender Inclusive Communications Guidebook (PDF, 550 KB)

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Tools for Readability and Accessibility

Section 508 Standards are established and maintained by the U.S. Access Board. Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

USDA’s written products must meet the minimum Level-A and Level-AA Success Criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — the globally recognized guidelines for creating accessible digital experiences from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WCAG 2.0 outlines the principles, guidelines, testable success criteria, and techniques needed to optimize content. The standard for most documents you will encounter or create must meet the standards for PDF/UA-1. There are four principles known as “POUR,” where all online content should be:

  1. Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
  2. Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform).
  3. Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
  4. Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technology (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible).

Other resources:

USDA Plain Language Training

In addition to the Federal Plain Language website tools and resources available, USDA has developed its own materials to assist employees with Plain Language training and compliance. These materials provide a clear definition of plain language and helps our employees adapt their writing to this concise, modern style. Employees learn how to focus their content, add structure with tables and lists, use active voice, and adopt a direct, personal style that communicates clarity and confidence to your audience.

USDA Contact for Plain Language Compliance

Tell us how we're doing! If you have trouble understanding any of our documents or website material, please contact the Office of the Executive Secretariat at Your comments and suggestions will help us further improve our communications. The USDA plain language coordinators can be found by contacting us via

Our Plain Language Partners

The mission of the USAGov program is to make it easier for people to find and understand the government services and information they need—anytime, anywhere, any way they want. In addition to, the USAGov program serves people through:

  • USAGov en Español,'s Spanish-language counterpart
  • The USAGov Contact Center, answering questions in English and Spanish about government services by phone or web chat: USAGov Contact Center; Ask a question at 1-844-USAGOV1 (1-844-872-4681)
  • USAGov Outreach, connecting with people in English and Spanish through social media, feature stories, and a blog.

Search for a variety of Federal programs, but especially see How to apply for food stamps (SNAP benefits).


The AskUSDA site makes it easy to find information from across our organization all in one place, or connects you with someone who can. USDA Customer Service Representatives are available via phone or live chat Monday to Friday from 8 AM – 5:00 p.m. EST.

  • CALL (833) ONE-USDA or (202) 720-2791
  • Send your questions via e-mail and receive a response within 1-2 business days:

Disaster Resource Center

The Disaster Resource Center provides information for the general public on how to prepare, recover and build long-term resilience during disasters and emergencies.

The Government Printing Office and the Federal Register

The Government Printing Office (GPO) is authorized to determine the form and style of Government printing. The GPO Style Manual is the official guide for Federal publishing. The Style Manual’s rules are based on principles of good usage and custom in the printing trade, but are applied to general writing as well.

The Office of the Federal Register (OFR), an agency under the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), publishes seven major publications containing the official text of Federal laws, Presidential documents, administrative regulations, public notices, descriptions of Federal organizations, programs, and activities. The OFR is the one-stop location, whether online or in print, to keep abreast of all of the substantive actions of the Executive Branch and the Congress.

The Federal Register is the OFR’s daily gazette containing Presidential documents and new and amended Federal regulations. (The OFR publishes the complete set of Federal rules in the Code of Federal Regulations.) The Document Drafting Handbook gives Federal agencies guidance and examples for drafting Federal Register documents. This guidance explains how to follow the submission, format, and editorial requirements established in 44 U.S.C. Chapter 15 of the Federal Register Act and 1 CFR Chapter I.

USDA publications in the Federal Register