Writing for

A 5th Grade Reading Level

Did you know that more than half of American adults read at a 5th grade reading level? It’s true.

According to the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC), a 2017 study demonstrated that half or more of adult Americans read at a 5th grade level, or lower. 

Therefore, it is a best practice to write in simple, plain-spoken English, to make your content accessible to all. If anything, this makes your job easier. No need to overthink it, get overly-fancy, or keep referring to thesaurus.com as you write. 


  • Hyperbole
  • Jargon
  • Idioms
  • Adverbs
  • Excessive Punctuation
  • Humor
  • Buzzwords
  • SAT Words
  • Absolutes
  • Overly-technical terms

Instead, use

  • Plain-spoken language
  • Single, or double-syllable words
  • Smaller, snippet-style sentences
  • Actionable copy, that tells people what you want them to do (use verbs)
  • Positive language, whenever possible
  • Active voice

Sure—many site visitors will be business and governmental professionals, but not all. Therefore, by keeping this literacy statistic, and best practice, in mind as you write will help make pa.gov more accessible to all. 

Use plain-spoken English. Break it down to its most simple and basic form.

  • By using shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs, you can make your copy easier to read.
  • Break up the content on the page and make it easier to scan.
  • Simple headings, titles, and subtitles make copy easily-scannable.
  • Express your ideas in short, declarative sentences.
  • If sentences include a lot of punctuation (commas, em dashes, etc.) try breaking them out into smaller, more easily-digestible sentences.
  • Need to choose between a 4-syllable word or a 2-syllable word? Go for the shorter word, as long as the common understanding of the word is the same (e.g. automobile vs car).

When in doubt, ask yourself, “How would I say this to a friend?” Then, write that way. Also, it helps to read it back to yourself. If it feels clunky—simplify.