Are We Writing in Plain English?

Plain Language logoDoes the NRC use too much jargon? Is it hard to figure out what some of our publications are trying to say? Those aren’t rhetorical questions; we really want to know—preferably with some specific examples.

Writing in plain English is a long-standing goal of the NRC. But we are currently renewing our efforts to communicate clearly in response to a new law passed by Congress. Since many of our regulatory functions are highly technical, there will always be some NRC documents that use a lot of technical and scientific terminology. Congress recognizes this and directs agencies to “focus on documents Americans are most likely to encounter” and write “in a way that meets the needs of the intended audience.”

So we will be making an extra effort to use plain writing in the documents most often read by the general public, such as:

• Performance Assessments (For both reactors and fuel cycle facilities)

• Inspection Reports

• Environmental Impact Statements

• Significant Enforcement Actions

• Meeting Notices

If you have specific suggestions for items that are hard to understand, or that need to be written more plainly, please let us know in the comments to this post.

Glenn Ellmers
Communication Specialist

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

7 thoughts on “Are We Writing in Plain English?”

  1. My brother recommended I would possibly like this blog.
    He was once entirely right. This post actually made my day.
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  2. I have worked in the nuclear Industry for over 30 years. I agree that our frequent use of Acronyms makes it difficult for the public to understand what we are talking about. I have yet to see a document that clearly explains the NRC’s SDP to the general public.

  3. We realize acronyms can make documents difficult to read and they are one of the things our working group will be looking at as we try to improve the readability of NRC documents.

    Glenn Ellmers

  4. I agree with Len. The first time a term is used in a given document it should be spelled out in full and the acronym should follow in parentheses. Although the NRC website does list acronyms, they are alarmingly numerous and seem to multiply faster than rabbits. It is cumbersome to have to look them up.

  5. A major advance would occur with severe restrictions on the use of acronyms. Acronyms are a hindrance to clarity as they can be easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. The fact that the different reactor designers often use different acronyms for similar systems only adds to the confusion. Acronyms be gone.

  6. Your point is well taken. We make an effort to give the public as much advance notice of our public meetings as possible. Sometimes that means documents that will be made available in ADAMS have not been posted there yet. If they have been posted, we try to include the ADAMS ML number for convenience.

    Glenn Ellmer

  7. I have noticed an improvement in the clarity of the inspection reports for Diablo Canyon over the past couple of years. There is now a summary of the most important findings at the beginning. This enables the lay reader to get the lay of the land and to decide which parts of the full report to read in detail.

    Notifications of meetings from OPA would be improved if the exact ML# of all relevant documents were included at the bottom of the notice. Using as an example No. IV-11-006, it would save me a lot of time and frustration if there were something like this:

    ” The agenda and reports to be considered for this meeting may be found at by clicking on ************. Alternatively, see ML 88888888 and ML 444444″, which will be posted 5 working days before the meeting date.”

    You get the idea. Don’t make us go on a scavenger hunt. And no fair posting the reports to be discussed during or after the PUBLIC MEETING. If we can’t see the content in advance, we can not be ready to fully understand nor to offer useful comments.

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