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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guidelines to communicating clearly -- Camille Tuutti, Federal Computer Week

Following up on a recent report card on how well U.S. government agencies are complying with a federal plain-language law, Tuutti interviewed the board chair of the Center for Plain Language. That nonprofit organization gave 12 government agencies two grades, for how well they followed the requirements of the law and how well they followed the “spirit” of the law.

Annetta Cheek, who also was plain language coordinator at the Federal Aviation Administration, answered the following questions; I've included some responses:
Who's the worst offender of complex language? Government? Industry? Academia?

How can managers best implement the Plain Writing Act?

What are some challenges of the act when it comes to adoption in federal agencies?

What are some good examples of plain writing?

How about complex writing?

Why do people use complex writing?
  • They think it’s a requirement of their organization.
  • They are just updating old models, not creating new documents, and the old models are awful.
  • They think it makes them look knowledgeable.
  • They can’t write any other way. Writing clearly is much harder work than writing in your usual bureaucratic manner.
  • They are not thinking of the intended reader. Instead, they are thinking about their manager, the lawyer that has to approve the document, the technical person at the next desk.
What are some guidelines to simple, concise writing?
There are lots, but if I had to pick just a few, I’d say:
  • Strongly prefer active voice
  • Keep your sentences reasonably short
  • Keep subject, verb and object together – don’t stick other stuff in between
  • Omit anything your reader doesn’t really need
  • Use pronouns
  • See the Federal Plain Language guidelines for lots more
 This article is highlighted in today's (July 26) Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For more related information, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing  Guide.

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