The Average American Reader Needs You to Write (Even More) Clearly

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET

Hosted by Plain Language Community of Practice and

Over 50% of U.S. adults score below an international benchmark for literacy, with roughly 20% scoring at the very lowest levels of literacy. These adults cross all demographics and are, therefore, represented in any audience for whom you may be writing.

When communicating with the public, we must change our assumptions about their ability to comprehend text. This is especially true when the information keeps changing, is complex, or the stakes are high and people are in crisis.

This presentation will discuss some of the most recent findings about the literacy skills of U.S. adults, including digital literacy and the implications for communicating with the public. We will review research that suggests what may be particularly problematic for readers and what might be helpful.

During this session, we will also explore timely examples of materials and how to make them even clearer by writing for those who may struggle most.


Dr. Meredith Larson is a research analyst for the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research, with a focus on postsecondary and adult education. She oversees research projects and initiatives relevant to addressing the skill and attainment gaps of adults and improving their academic outcomes. Dr. Larson earned a master’s degree in cognitive and instructional psychology and a doctorate in psycholinguistics.

This meeting is hosted by the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from the government.