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Why Plain Language? (Content from the Center for Plain Language)
 

Why Plain Language? (Content from the Center for Plain Language)

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Why does plain language matter? This presentation explores what happens in people's heads when they use information and "plain language" strategies for helping them get their jobs done.

Why does plain language matter? This presentation explores what happens in people's heads when they use information and "plain language" strategies for helping them get their jobs done.

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    Why Plain Language? (Content from the Center for Plain Language) Why Plain Language? (Content from the Center for Plain Language) Presentation Transcript

    • Why Plain Language? Thom Haller [email_address] www.thomhaller.com Executive Director Center for Plain Language www.centerforplainlanguage.org
    • Today…
      • Who Am I? Why am I here?
      • Introduction to Human Beings – -- How we process information and why this matters
      • About Plain Language
      • Using Plain Language
      • What You Can Do -- Next Steps
    • Meet Thom: Why am I here?
      • Thom… Person most likely to get lost in information
      • Thom… Person most likely to get lost in information
      Not a Lawyer
      • Thom… Person most likely to get lost in information
      Government Writer Rhetorician and Teacher
    • For many years I built “communication products” nobody wanted to use 1990s now 1976 1980s Working for 3-letter acronym firms
    • Hmmmm… This makes me grumpy
    • Because I Loved the Research
      • Research that said YES we can structure information to help people accomplish more on the job
      • Research that said YES the visual presentation of information matters
      Document Design Center, 1983
    • Because I Loved the Research
      • Research that said YES we can structure information to help people accomplish more on the job
      • Research that said YES the visual structure of information matters
      Jan White, 1982
    • Deliverable Use of Product/Site I noticed a problem with the process…. Timeline Hmmmm… There’s a disconnect…
    • Deliverable Use of Product/Site How can we keep our focus on what people want to DO?
    • I focused on how humans use information to support their goals Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (1999) Understanding by Design Content for DOING
    • I learned how we are often thwarted by the STRUCTURE of content
    • I focused on the First Law of Understanding
      • “You always understand something based on what you already know.”
              • Richard Saul Wurman
    • I began to apply systematic processes that supported analysis Evaluate Envision Analyze Design Develop Test ADDIE Model (Expanded)
    • It worked! User-focused products made people happy.
    • It worked! “ Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
    • 1990s 2000-now 1970s 1980s Meanwhile… Others were discovering that user-focused content WORKED Label change shows international shift and worldwide movement 60’s/70’s Voices Rise Against “Gobbletygook” 1977 , the Federal Communications Commission issued first “Plain English” rules (for Citizens Band Radios) In 1978 , Executive Orders intended to make government regulations “cost-effective and easy-to-understand by those who were required to comply with them.” Department of Education funded the Document Design Project 80’s – interest increases in legal profession SEC produces Plain English Handbook Executive Order calls for Plain Language in Government www.plainlanguage.gov launches. Becomes respected Government resource State initiatives show measurable results Center for Plain Language formed
    • Plain Language Advocates Come From All Disciplines Developed by the Plain Language Network
    • Part 2: Introduction to Human Beings… How We Process Information and Why This Matters
    • Humans communicate by sending and receiving information
    • It takes a lot for to receive a clear message
    • Humans Want Meaningful Data
        • “If information does not inform ( support someone in understanding ) than it is only data, only stuff.”
            • Richard Saul Wurman
    • We are often grumpy
      • An average worker “costs” 62 cents per minute.
            • Based on average salary of 50K plus benefits
      30 minutes wasted = $18.75 per day. Workplace Challenges
    • We focus on “what’s in it for us?” Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (1999) Understanding by Design
    • We Build Schemas (Schemata)
      • Human beings use schemata (mental structures based on past experience) to organize current knowledge and provide a framework for future understanding.
    • Source: Visual Language, Robert Horn, 2000 We rely on perception
    • Source: Visual Language, Robert Horn, 2000 We rely on perception
    • We rely on patterns How many dots?
    • How many dots?
    • We process information actively
    • We also face cognitive limitations
    • We face limitations
      • Our visual memory is small
      • We fail to recognize changes
      • Our visual focus is actually quite small
      • We are burdened by extraneous cognitive load
              • **Special thanks to Dr. John Whelan, Univ Del
    • Limitations….
      • Our visual memory is small
      • We fail to recognize changes
      • Our visual focus is actually quite small
      • We are burdened by extraneous cognitive load
    • Our visual memory is small
      • Our Visual Memory Capacity:
      • 4 ± 1 items
    • We look for organized patterns
    • We depend on categories to support us
    • We look for connections in text
      • This Phase I project will test the feasibility of converting paper mill sludge or filter-cake (FC), which is typically landfilled or incinerated and is a major environmental concern, into pelletized, composite sorbent of activated carbon and highly porous clay. There are currently more than 500 paper mills in the United States, each generating from 10 to more than 100 dry-tons of FC each day. The composite-activated sorbent (CAS) is especially suitable for purification of industrial wastewater, such as paper mill effluent prior to discharge. The proposed two-stage technique involves segregated fluidized-bed pyrolysis, with programmed heating at relatively low temperature, to maximize char yield (carbon retention is critical to low-carbon feedstock of FC), and combustion of pyrolysis gases at higher temperature, with H2O and CO2 as the main gaseous products. Low-temperature pyrolysis of solid FC avoids gaseous pollutants (e.g., dioxins), typical of incineration processes where solid is subjected to combustion temperatures. No solid residue remains because char is generated in the matrix of residual clay to form a composite activated solid, which with high-temperature heating, results in both activated carbon as well as calcination of the clay. Clay serves both as a binder and an active sorbent component. The CAS thus obtained has typical specific-surface-area of 600 m2/g, and nominal iodine-number of 600, comparable with high-grade commercial activated carbon for water purification. The full-scale process produces a medium heating-value, combustible fuel gas, which has energy well in excess of the needs of the process itself. Phase I efforts will demonstrate the effectiveness of the pelletized CAS product, provide measurement of its mechanical and physical properties, and indicate processing parameters that affect these properties. It also will measure gaseous compositions in the pyrolysis and activation stages.
    • Limitations….
      • Our visual memory is small
      • We fail to recognize changes
      • Our visual focus is actually quite small
      • We are burdened by extraneous cognitive load
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  
    • Limitations….
      • Our visual memory is small
      • We fail to recognize changes
      • Our visual focus is actually quite small
      • We are burdened by extraneous cognitive load
    • We tend to FOCUS on a very small amount of space on a web site and in print
    •  
    •  
    •  
    • Limitations….
      • Our visual memory is small
      • We fail to recognize changes
      • Our visual focus is actually quite small
      • We are burdened by extraneous cognitive load
      • Extraneous cognitive load = any cognitive activity that users must “work through”
      • because of the way information is organized and presented .
        • Your goal: order food
            • Background : $5.00 in your pocket and you want to order lunch using the Sticks and Bowls menu.
          • Look at your menu?
          • What problems do you encounter?
      Scenario: Seeking Structure Stic s bowls
    • Notice what your experience was like Stic s bowls
    • Notice what your experience was like And envision what it’s like for someone who has to follow a Government regulation Stic s bowls
    • We have the opportunity to help people “get the job done” by using plain language
    • 3. About Plain Language
    • Plain Language is…
      • Content that is straightforward, clear and precise.
        • It is stripped of excess verbiage
        • It is not simplistic/”dumbed down” writing
      • Content that enables people to find what they need, understand what they find, and act on that understanding.
    • Plain Language is…
      • A process and a way of thinking.
        • Focuses on helping specific audiences accomplish what they want to accomplish
        • Pays attention to the differences in content to help someone do and content that’s good to know.
    • Plain language is…
      • A framework for responding to the usability needs faced by citizens.
      • An effective structure for measuring return on investment for communication products.
    • 4. What You Can Do (Plain Language Strategies)
    • Plain Language Strategies
      • Improve Process
      • Focus on Structure
      • Use “Plain” Style
      • Attend to Emphasis & Relationships
      • Advocate for Plain Language
    • Plain Language Strategies
      • Improve Process
      • Focus on Structure
      • Use “Plain” Style
      • Attend to Emphasis & Relationships
    • Reshape your thinking to begin at a point of “not understanding”
      • “ The key to making things understandable is to understand what it’s like not to understand.”
              • Richard Saul Wurman
    • Incorporate “User Centered” Thinking Attend to What Your Audience Wants to Know Analysis Implementation Evaluation Development Design
    • Ask FOCUSING Questions 3. How do they/we measure success? 2. What TASKS do they want to do? 1. Who’s the audience?
    • Look at the corners of your triangle... Use Questions to FRAME content you keep in                                                                                                                                                                             
    • Put Yourself in Your Readers’ Shoes
      • To show you're thinking about a reader, ask the questions a reader would ask. "Do I need a license?" "What records must I keep?" "How will the agency handle my reports?"
    • Write To Your Audience
      • Before
        • Coal miners must provide the following information : . . . .
      • After
        • If you are a surface owner, you must report your . . . .
      • TIP: The "if you are" phrase is a powerful way to begin. It lets you speak directly to the reader as "you."
    • Plain Language Strategies
      • Improve Process
      • Focus on Structure
      • Use “Plain” Style
      • Attend to Emphasis & Relationships
      • Advocate for Plain Language
    • Structural Strategies
      • Enable readers to see structure and understand organizational patterns
      • Explain process in chronological order
    • Follow these Tips (Refer to Handout: Rewriting a Short Rule)
      • Divide rule into more logical units
      • Retitle new units so they become headings
        • Example: former §7.525(a)(3)(vi)A is now §7.528(a)
      • Replace passive voice with active voice, add pronouns, simplify language
    • Focus on Your Audience and Their Context Does text help citizen understand? A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was prepared to assist decision-makers and the public in understanding how a refined design of the proposed Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) would compare to the Metrorail Alternative evaluated in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) published in June 2002 for the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project. Public Involvement
    • Favorite Structural Tip: Old/New Rule surprising new topics
    • For Some Guidance (Such as Letters) Include Decision Tables
      • Before:
      • We must receive your completed application form on or before the 15th day of the second month following the month you are reporting if you do not submit your application electronically or the 25th day of the second month following the month you are reporting if you submit your application electronically.
      • After :
      15 th of the second month Not electronically 25 th of the second month Electronically Then we must receive it by: If you submit your form
    • Beyond Rules….Consider Ways to Incorporate Images
    • Plain Language Strategies
      • Improve Process
      • Focus on Structure
      • Use “Plain” Style
      • Attend to Emphasis & Relationships
    • Plain Language Style Strategies
      • Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs
      • Use active verbs
      • Avoid sentences with double negatives or exceptions to exceptions
      • Use personal pronouns (such as I and you)
      • Omit needless words
      • Use subject-verb-object word order
    • Keep Paragraphs Short (or else humans will perceive them as one big blob) Help your users see patterns. Insert blank lines liberally. Cut the text to the bone, then put paragraph breaks between ideas. One sentence can be a perfectly good paragraph.
    • Use “Search/Replace” as help when you draft new content
      • This Phase I project will test the feasibility of converting paper mill sludge or filter-cake (FC), which is typically landfilled or incinerated and is a major environmental concern, into pelletized, composite sorbent of activated carbon and highly porous clay.
      • There are currently more than 500 paper mills in the United States, each generating from 10 to more than 100 dry-tons of FC each day.
      • The composite-activated sorbent (CAS) is especially suitable for purification of industrial wastewater, such as paper mill effluent prior to discharge.
      • The proposed two-stage technique involves segregated fluidized-bed pyrolysis, with programmed heating at relatively low temperature, to maximize char yield (carbon retention is critical to low-carbon feedstock of FC), and combustion of pyrolysis gases at higher temperature, with H2O and CO2 as the main gaseous products.
      • Low-temperature pyrolysis of solid FC avoids gaseous pollutants (e.g., dioxins), typical of incineration processes where solid is subjected to combustion temperatures.
      • No solid residue remains because char is generated in the matrix of residual clay to form a composite activated solid, which with high-temperature heating, results in both activated carbon as well as calcination of the clay.
    • Avoid Cognitive Challenges with Negatives
      • Opposition to Trio Owner’s Application for Approval to Serve Mixed Drinks on Existing Q Street Patio Not Sustained
    • Plain Language Strategies
      • Improve Process
      • Focus on Structure
      • Use “Plain” Style
      • Attend to Emphasis & Relationships
    • Emphasis and Relationships
      • Place general material before exceptions and specialized information
      • Provide the right amount of detail to support the audience
      • Explain legal, foreign, and technical terms
      • Minimize cross-references
      • Your user wants to see the key structure in your site.
      • Your user wants to understand what to do.
      • You want to put that reader “in control.”
      Help Users by Incorporating User-Focused Structures
    • What we can tell others:
      • Our job is to connect people to the information they want. We need to think deeply about the many possible connections that can support others.
    • 5. What You Can Do (Next Steps)
    • Learn More About How People Use Information
    • Lead in your organization
      • Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, has asked federal employees to write more plainly because it will pay huge dividends in improved customer service, safer skills, and reduced costs.
    • Be an Example “I’m the most senior official here at BCBC – I’ve been trying to ensure this is part of our organizational culture, that we communicate in plain language.” Doug Hyndman, Chair
    • Measure Your Successes
      • A Veteran’s Affairs letter asking veterans to update their named beneficiary was rewritten and the response rate improved 22%, saving 640,000.
      • The State of Washington saved $800,000 after reshaping a letter.
    • Raise the Attention on Plain Language in Your States
      • 23 states have some type of programs supporting Plain Language.
      • Washington (State) and Florida have Plain Language Initiatives
    • Consider Programs to Raise the Profile of Plain Language
      • Federally:
        • The National Institutes of Health has a plain language committee and holds a yearly award ceremony for brochures, pamphlets, and Web sites that provide the public with clear, understandable health information.
    • Join the Center for Plain Language
      • The Center’s activities support four primary goals :
        • To advocate for plain language use, education, and training within government, the private sector, and academia
        • To conduct and disseminate research that identifies best practices, and that supports plain language use, education, and training
        • To educate and equip leaders in government, business, and academia with the information and tools they need to achieve their plain language goals
        • To support and strengthen plain language use by harnessing the energy of plain language practitioners and advocates, and by coordinating activities that promote the use of clear communication
    • You can become a FRIEND for $10
      • Support Plain Language for the Price of Two Cinnamon Dolce Lattes
      • Keep abreast of national Plain Language Initiatives
      Join online: www.centerforplainlanguage.org
    • We want to enable people to understand and apply rules/regulations Conclusion: We face an big challenges…
    • We Can Respond to Our Opportunity
      • We can structure information so people can find it and use it (and appreciate the experience)
    • You can Put Your Time and Dollars to Work Helping Others Thanks. Thom--- [email_address] [email_address]