One of the key activities of the Federation at present is the development of an international plain language standard.

Our focus is to develop an optional multi-language standard for plain language under the auspices of the International Standards’ Organization (ISO). The Standards Project has been on the our agenda since the we were established in 2009.

The development of the Standard is been overseen by a Standards Working Group made up of members of Clarity, PLAIN and the Center for Plain Language. Chaired by Christopher Balmford from Australia.

Update from Clarity 2018, Montreal conference

At Clarity’s conference in Montreal in October 2018, the 300+ attendees at a plenary session approved a proposal to develop an optional multi-language standard for plain language under the auspices of the International Standards’ Organization (ISO). The session was presented by 4 members of the Standards Committee of the International Plain Language Federation.

Summary of the session

The presenters detailed their plans to develop a standard that will work across as many languages as possible — to help writers everywhere develop documents that work for their readers. An ISO standard for plain language would have considerable weight in the worlds of business and government, which is accustomed to following ISO standards.

Plan and process

The Committee plans to apply to Standards Australia to develop a plain language standard. If the application is successful, then Standards Australia will allocate resources — project managers, drafters, consultation groups etc. — to develop the standard. Once it’s complete, the Committee will seek to have it adopted by the ISO, for other countries to consider.

During the Standards Australia process, the Federation will circulate drafts for comment throughout the plain language world. It will do so principally to members of the 3 organisations that formed the Federation — namely:

A model for the standard

The Committee’s model for the standard is based on an existing guideline for web accessibility — Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This is a model — not a draft. It sets out a likely approach to the structure of the standard.

A multi-language standard

The presenters emphasized that their intent is to develop a standard that will work in most, if not all, languages. Multi-language applications will be considered from the start of the process, not just after an English-language document is developed.

Stakeholder support

For the Committee’s application to Standards Australia to be successful, the application needs to show, among other things, that a plain language standard would be supported by stakeholder organisations — in business, government, education etc.

To support the project, you can help arrange stakeholder support for the Federation’s application to Standards Australia. Standards Australia is particularly interested in representative organisations, professional bodies, government regulators, unions, consumer groups, and academic and research bodies. While we need support mainly from Australian organizations, letters from other countries will be helpful too.

If you think you can get a support letter email us.


  • Clarity 2018, Montreal — Attendees warmly encouraged the Federation and the Committee to continue their work.
  • March 2019 — Apply to Standards Australia to start the process. After result, communicate through the Federation.
  • September 2019 — PLAIN in Oslo, progress report, partial draft.
  • September 2020 — Clarity conference, progress report more complete draft.
  • September 2021 — PLAIN conference, progress report. Australia process complete.

After that — From Australia to the world. The process can be initiated from Australia or from within a country. Remember, a standard can’t be inflicted on a country.