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Your taxes, now in plain language

It's now law. Federal government documents must be in "plain writing."

And yes, that includes the Internal Revenue Service.

Quill pen and inkwell

The mandate comes from H.R. 946, the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which was signed by Obama last week.

Actually, the IRS has about a year to revise its documents. The new plain writing law's provisions don't take effect until Oct. 13, 2011.

So what exactly is plain writing?

PlainLanguage.gov uses the famous Supreme Court porn standard: You know it when you see it.

The website says there's no one way to put things into plain language. Rather, plain language is defined by results: It is easy to read, understand and use.

In order to get federal materials into a more readable state, the new law requires the head of each federal agency to name at least one senior official to oversee the plain writing process.

Federal employees will get training in plain writing.

And each federal agency's website will contain a plain writing section that's accessible from the home page.

Some rewriting already: The IRS already has made good progress in recent years in translating forms, instructions, notices and other communications into more understandable English. 

I'm not fluent in Spanish or any of the many other languages into which IRS publications are translated, but I'm presuming they've become a little more readable, too.

Still, the new plain writing law should help make all tax communications even more comprehensible.

Whether that will get more taxpayers to comply with the laws remains to be seen.

But it should help reduce with the "I didn't understand" and "The instructions weren't clear" excuses.

You can check out examples of government documents in plain language. You also can check out some humorous takes on plain writing.

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