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Friday, May 3, 2013

Editing Tool Cleaning Up Legalese in Seattle | And Another Tool for Cleaning Documents

I retired a couple of years from the King County government serving the greater Seattle area--after more than 30 years of working as an editor and public information officer. During my time there, I became increasingly emphatic about the need to write and edit public documents in clear, concise, plain language. If we want people to read, use and benefit from our materials, we must make sure our documents are understandable.

And now I read about a new software product that's helping the city government of Seattle produce official documents that aren't filled with bureaucratic terminology and legal jargon. As described in this article:

Called WordRake, the technology is a plug-in for Microsoft Word. Once activated, the program “rakes” a document, highlighting unnecessary words and phrases for the writer to eliminate. Seattle’s purchasing department, transportation department, Mayor’s office and City Attorney’s office started using the program earlier this year.
Says Nancy Locke, director of purchasing for Seattle:
It takes the bureaucracy out of our writing. As soon as I tried it myself, I wanted my staff to have this capability on their desktops. The program has helped them communicate better to our public and any tool that can do that is very valuable.
According to the WorkRake website, subscriptions to the online software begin at $89 a year, and there are two-year, three-year and quantity pricing. I'm going to test it on a free three-day trial, though I doubt I'll subscribe.

WorkRake is not for everyone, whether they work in government or somewhere else. The WordRake website says it's "The first editing software for lawyers."

I'm also familiar with a British-based software product, called StyleWriter, that can be used by writers and editors in all fields--including law offices and government agencies. I use it and recommend it highly.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I used to make commissions from selling it at Garbl's Writing Center, but I don't now have a direct link to its online sales tool).

According to its website in the United States:
StyleWriter searches for thousands of writing faults, including complex words, jargon and abstract words, wordy phrases, hidden verbs, passive verbs, clich├ęs and long sentences. It then pops up advice showing you how to edit each sentence. ...
Websites for both these products make clear that users cannot just launch the software and let it do all the thinking, artificially. Humans must be involved -and should be involved--in making choices from those offered by the software. That human involvement is as essential with these products as it is when people use the spelling and grammar checkers built into Microsoft Word.

To aid that thinking, whether you have these products or not, I offer free, handy advice on clear, concise writing at a couple of websites:
The WordRake article is featured today, May 3, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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