Annetta Cheek


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This was a presentation from the November 2009 workshop in the Open Government Directive Workshop Series.

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Annetta Cheek

  1. 1. Plain Language Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Chair, Center for Plain Language
  2. 2. What is Plain Language? <ul><li>Material is in plain language if readers can </li></ul><ul><li>Find what they need </li></ul><ul><li>Understand what they find </li></ul><ul><li>Use it to fulfill their needs </li></ul>And they should be able to do this the first time they read or hear it!
  3. 3. <ul><li>Plain language is audience-specific. </li></ul><ul><li>What is plain language for one audience may not be plain language for another audience. </li></ul><ul><li>Plain language is not dumbing down, or writing to the lowest common denominator . </li></ul><ul><li>Plain language is precise. There is no conflict between precision and clarity. </li></ul>
  4. 4. These techniques help you achieve the goal of plain language.
  5. 5. Use: <ul><li>Informative headings </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Active voice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pronouns </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lists and tables </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Common words </li></ul></ul>Logical organization
  6. 6. Avoid: <ul><ul><li>Abbreviations, jargon, legal terms, Latin </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Confusing constructions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unnecessary words </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Information the audience doesn’t need </li></ul></ul>Long sentences
  7. 7. A general principle – Less is more! Plain language usually – but not always – helps you be more concise.
  8. 8. <ul><li>Plain language results in better compliance with instructions. </li></ul><ul><li>People think you’re smarter when you write in plain language. </li></ul><ul><li>Plain language saves time and money for both the author and the audience </li></ul>Why should the government use plain language?
  9. 9. <ul><li>Significantly fewer calls from customers. </li></ul><ul><li>One office, in Jackson, MS, decided to rewrite one standard benefits letter into plain language. </li></ul>Veterans Benefits Administration <ul><li>More veterans applied for benefits. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Fewer calls from customers 1920 10,968 Total calls each year, 10 counselors 16 91.4 Calls to each counselor each month Plain Language letter Old letter
  11. 11. <ul><li>Revised regulations about radio operations on pleasure boats to improve their clarity. </li></ul><ul><li>A Washington-based firm studied the ability of users to find answers to questions in the old and new versions. </li></ul><ul><li>The test groups included both new and experienced users. </li></ul>Federal Communications Commission
  12. 12. Less time for users to solve a problem (in minutes)
  13. 13. <ul><li>An extensive project revising forms into plainer language and format. </li></ul><ul><li>They saved time for their agencies and achieved a higher rate of compliance with requirements. </li></ul>Canadian Government
  14. 14. Shorter processing, more returns Name of Form Original Version Plain Language Version Operating Grant Application Staff processing time – 20 minutes Staff processing time – 3 minutes Grant Report 25% return rate 50% return rate Tree Nursery Order Form 40% error rate 20% error rate, cut staff processing time in half
  15. 15. Resources [email_address]