Saving Your Budget with Plain Language

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Keynote at IACREOT 2012 in Albuquerque. IACREOT is the international association of local government officials: county clerks, recorders, election officials and treasurers.

Examples of how plain language can make letters, forms, ballots and other materials more effective, saving time and resources, while helping people understand and use information needed to interact with local government or participate in democratic elections.

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  • When Libby invited me to come to IACREOT, she reminded me that there’s more to this group than elections. As county clerks and recorders, you have so many different roles in working with the public. In those roles, you connect directly to my work – and passion--- for usabiltiy and accessibility of information. I’ve worked on everything from cancer treatment information, emergency response plans to ballots. Almost everything I do focuses on making information clear , so that everyone who needs it can find it, understand it and use it. That’s the definition of plain language. I think of it as usability and accessibility for information.
  • I think it’s trying to say “Please bring any heavy letters to the window so we can check them with you. Otherwise, we will have to open it to see if there is anything dangerous inside. Your mail will be delayed, and it costs us something, too.”
  • Notice that the fact sheet isn’t that fancy. It’s printed on regular paper.It also focused on how to create a successful records request - what the department needs - what it costs - information already available on the web siteIn other words, it answers the questions that people have, providing clear, concise instructions
  • But let’s look at what happened when they revised it. Same trifold. Same printing costs, but so much clearer, with different types of information grouped sensibly. It even takes the same amount of space, but it’s fewer words.
  • Finally, I’d like to show you an example of a really complex form, but one that millions of Americans deal with every month. It’s the Medicare Summary Notice. Now, nothing can really make this information easy – the whole system really is complicated. But we can make it easier to read. And let me show you what Medicare is rolling out now.
  • Coming a little closer to home, some of you may remember Minnesota’s 2008 Senate election. Afterwards, they wanted to make the instructions for absentee ballots clearer, so there would be fewer ballots rejected. HT to Beth Fraser and a big HT to the national team of plain langauge experts and local usability professionals who worked on the project. We worked with them as part of the legal processWorked within constraints for paper size, election processThe plain language work was important, but so was usability testing was critical. 2 rounds of testing to find and fix areas of confusion or unclarity.
  • Those are our themes: (CLICK) Write for your audience In words they understandOrganized logicallySo people can use the information easilyUsing as few words as possibleDesigned to help them see your message.
  • Know what they know. You can use research to gather this information – but you have the best source of information around: direct contact with the public.What do they ask about? What confuses them?Answer those questions, and you are off to a good start. Speak to them like people.
  • Look at the orderLow literacy – read linearly.Low vision – read linearlyAudio - linear
  • Current NY State instructions
  • The original is over 300 words.This version is just 106 wordsIt’s legal. It was drafted in part by the Board of Elections.A bill with this language just passed the NY Assembly… we have our fingers crossed that it will pass the Senate, too
  • Ny State Broome 2010 ballot
  • Re-envisioned for future.
  • Each step is an improvement. It can be done incrementallyIt can be done with your own staffWithin the law
  • is no way to understand what the impact will be on design and communicationHow can anyone understand what this will look like?How can we know whether it will be usable?Can anyone look at this and envision how it will translate into what the voter sees? Very difficult.Must at least mockup.Danger of a law that requires something that won’t work – or won’t fit onto the ballot or screen space.
  • Election departments don’t have (enough) design resourcesWe need more programs like the AIGA Election Design Fellowships in Oregon and WashingtonNot just the people, but the ways of working on desgin – continuing the theme of not working in legal markup. Lasting legacy beyond their work – training staff, and building resources. Jenny Greeve built libraries of images in the D4D instructional illustration style, making sure that they worked correctly for the voting systems in use.
  • Jenny again. Usability testing does not have to be formal or expensive.Get out and show what you are working on to people. Ask them to try it out, tell you what it means. Adjust.
  • Participants in a study of instruction styles overwhelmingly preferred the plain language versionWhen even standad document like privacy notices and mortgage disclosure forms have good design, we don’t want election material to look like voters have not been considered.It’s not just performance. Preference affects performance – if it looks scary, people are less likely to vote accurately.
  • So many of the problems are intractable and out of our control. But plain language – making information usable isn’t
  • Coming soonEffective election department web siesDelivering useful voter educationEffective design for vote-by-mailDesigning multi-language ballotsFunded by Kickstarter and now MacArthur Foundation
  • Saving Your Budget with Plain Language

    1. 1. withSaving your budget inplain languageWhitney QuesenberyPrincipal Consultant, WQusability.com and Usability in Civic LifeIACREOT 2012 – Abuquerque, NM
    2. 2. 2
    3. 3. 3
    4. 4. 4Washington State Department of Labor and Industries
Revised Confirmation Letters, ClearMarkwinner, 2010
    5. 5. 5Unum – How to File a Disabilty ClaimClearMark award winner, 2012 - http://centerforplainlanguage.org/awards/clearmark2012/unum/)
    6. 6. 6Unum – How to File a Disabilty Claim (ClearMark award winner, 2012)
    7. 7. 7Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
    8. 8. 8Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
    9. 9. 9Usability in Civic Life with the Minnesota Secretary of State, 2009
    10. 10. 10Information can be  technically accurate,  legally accurate,  legally sufficient and also  clear and understandable
    11. 11. 11It’s in plain language if people can Find it Understand it Use it* Definition from the Center for Plain Language
    12. 12. 12How do you makeinformation clear?
    13. 13. 13Write for your audience Use simple, everyday words Avoid jargon abbreviations and legalisms Speak directly to the audience: use pronouns like “you”
    14. 14. 14Organize information logically Place instructions where they are needed Put instructions in order Put the “if” before the “then” Each step in its own paragraph
    15. 15. 15✖ ✔
    16. 16. 16Write for action Write in active voice (the person comes before the verb) Tell people what to do, rather than what not to doPhoto from the Trace Center
    17. 17. 17
    18. 18. 18Keep it as short as possible Short, common words Short sentences Short paragaraphs
    19. 19. ✖ (1) Mark only with a writing instrument provided by the board of elections. (2) To vote for a candidate whose name is printed on this ballot fill in 19 the (insert oval or square, as applicable) above or next to the name of the candidate. (3) To vote for a person whose name is not printed on this ballot write or stamp his or her name in the space labeled “write-in” that appears (insert at the bottom of the column, the end of the row or at the bottom of the candidate names, as applicable) for such office (and, if required by the voting system in use at such election, the instructions shall also include “and fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) corresponding with the write-in space in which you have written in a name”). (4) To vote yes or no on a proposal, if any, that appears on the (indicate where on the ballot the proposal may appear) fill in the (insert oval or square, as applicable) that corresponds to your vote. (5) Any other mark or writing, or any erasure made on this ballot outside the voting squares or blank spaces provided for voting will void this entire ballot. (6) Do not overvote. If you select a greater number of candidates than there are vacancies to be filled, your ballot will be void for that public office, party position or proposal. (7) If you tear, or deface, or wrongly mark this ballot, return it and obtain another. Do not attempt to correct mistakes on the ballot by making erasures or cross outs. Erasures or cross outs may invalidate all or part of your ballot. Prior to submitting your ballot, if you make a mistake in completing the ballot or wish to change your ballot choices, you may obtain and complete a new ballot. You have a right to a replacement ballot upon return of the original ballot. (8) After completing your ballot, insert it into the ballot scanner and wait for the notice that your ballot has been successfully scanned. If no such notice appears, seek the assistance of an election inspector.
    20. 20. ✔ 20
    21. 21. 21Design for easy reading Use Mixed Case in text and names (not ALL CAPITAL LETTERS) Use bold for emphasis Use lists and tables. Choose one readable font
    22. 22. 22
    23. 23. 23✖
    24. 24. 24✔
    25. 25. 25Plain language is a process
    26. 26. The original 26 NOTICE If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots.To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left. TO VOTE, DARKEN THE OVAL NEXT TO YOUR CHOICE, LIKE THIS1. Put the instructions in a logical order TO VOTE, DARKEN THE OVAL NEXT TO YOUR CHOICE, LIKE THIS To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name. To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left. If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots2. Remove centering and capitals. Add emphasisTo vote, darken the oval next to your choice, like this:To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, darken the oval at the left of the person’s name.To vote for a person whose name is not printed on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, if any is provided, and darken the oval to the left.If you tear, deface, or make a mistake and wrongfully mark any ballot, you must return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots
    27. 27. 3. Simplify phrases to use common words 27To vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this:To vote for a person whose name is printed on the ballot, fill in the oval at the left of the person’s name.To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, and fill in the oval next to it.If you make a mistake marking your ballot, return it to the election board and receive a new ballot or set of ballots.4. Continue simplifying and using active phrasingTo vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this:To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space, and fill in the oval next to it.If you make a mistake marking your ballot, ask a poll worker for a new ballot. 5. Make the text large enough to seeTo vote, fill in the oval next to your choice, like this:To vote for a person whose name is not on the ballot, write the person’s name in the blank space,and fill in the oval next to it.If you make a mistake marking your ballot, ask a poll worker for a new ballot.
    28. 28. 28What holds us back?
    29. 29. 29Legal markup
    30. 30. 30 Not enough active team design workPhotos, Jenny Greeve, Accessible Voting Technology Initiative
    31. 31. 31Poster from WashingtonState, Jenny GreeveMore about usabilitytesting at & not enoughslideshare.net/whitneyq/need-a-little-usability usability testing
    32. 32. 33We can all be super heroes … for the public … for our departments … for democracy
    33. 33. 34Field Guides to Ensuring Voter IntentResearch Research SOP and Usability Researchcommissioned commissioned in Civic Life commissionedby EAC by NIST by NIST civicdesigning.org/fieldguides
    34. 34. 35Whitney Quesenberywhitney@wqusability.comUsability in Civic Lifehttp://usabilityinciviclife.orgField guides to ensuring voter intenthttp://civicdesigning.org/fieldguidesLEO Usability Testing Kithttp://www.usabilityinciviclife.org/voting/leo-testing-kit/

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