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Best Practice - Plain Language Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN)

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1 Best Practice - Plain Language Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN)

2 2 Objectives We will learn: The definition of plain language Requirements of the Plain Writing Act How using plain language saves your organization time and money Key plain language techniques How to develop your own program Where to find resources

3 3 What is Plain Language? Plain Language is communication that: –Your audience will understand the first time they read or hear it –Enables your audience to: Find what they need Understand what they find Use what they need to meet their needs

4 4 Why Use Plain Language? Plain Language gets your message out clearly Clear messages equal: Improved compliance Fewer complaints to resolve Less to print and mail More efficient use of staff time

5 5 Experts Like It Simple So you’re writing for brain surgeons? –Sure, they can understand the medical jargon and complex sentences when they aren’t busy… –But how about in the middle of SURGERY? Studies found attorneys take 2x as long to translate legalese. No wonder they charge clients by the hour.

6 6 Plain Language – It’s the Law Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to use clear communication that the public can understand. It covers print and web documents that: –Are needed to get federal benefits or services or for filing taxes –Provide information about benefits or services –Explain how to comply with requirements administered or enforced by the federal government

7 7 Plain Language – It’s the Law What does my agency need to do? Create a plain writing section of its website -- PLAIN has already written model language for you to useCreate a plain writing section Follow OMB–issued Guidance - Agencies may follow the Federal Plain Language GuidelinesFederal Plain Language Guidelines

8 8 Plain Language – It’s the Law By July 13, 2011 agencies must: Designate a senior official for "plain writing" Explain the Act's requirements to staff Establish a procedure to oversee the implementation of the Act within the agency Train agency staff in plain writing Designate staff as points of contact for the agency plain writing webpage Post its compliance plan for meeting the requirements of the Act on its plain language webpage

9 9 Plain Language – It’s the Law OMB must issue final guidance by April 13, The Act becomes effective on October 13, 2011 Starting on Oct. 13: –Agencies must use plain language in public facing documents –Write annual compliance reports and post them on its plain language webpage

10 10 Easy-to-Understand Regulations The Act does not cover regulations 3 separate Executive Orders emphasize the need for plain language –E.O Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review –E.O Regulatory planning and review –E.O Civil Justice Reform Best Practices for Federal Agencies

11 11 Benefits of Plain Language Plain Language makes sense to your audience and it makes you cents when you use it. Who uses plain language: Corporations State governments Federal agencies Foreign governments

12 12 Washington State 1 Department of Revenue rewrote its requirements for use-tax collections:  Tripled number of businesses voluntarily paying use- tax from 3% to 9%  Goal: $1.2 million extra revenue in first year  Actual: $2 million extra collected  Cost: 1 cent for every dollar collected

13 13 Washington State 2  Dept. of Licensing (drivers’ licenses) rewrote a notice telling people their license had been suspended.  Hotline busy signals declined 95%, and each day 850 more people reached the hotline, instead of getting a busy signal.  3 FTEs were transferred to help customers in other ways.

14 14 Canadian Forms Project Canadian government clarified 92 different forms. About 1,000,000 copies of the forms are used each year. Because there were fewer errors on the forms, processing time for government staff declined about 10 minutes for each form. In all, the government saves about 10 FTEs a year in processing time.

15 15 Veterans Benefit Administration Every several years, the VBA sends a letter to all veterans, asking them to update their beneficiaries. If a veteran dies and the VBA does not have a valid beneficiary listed in their files, the VBA must identify a valid beneficiary through research. Each research project costs the agency several thousand dollars in staff time. VBA decided to rewrite the letter into plain language to try to improve the response rate.

16 16 Veterans Benefit Administration Results from revised letter: Letter requesting beneficiary Response rateEstimated savings in each mailing cycle Old letter43 % Plain Language letter 65 %$5 million in staff time

17 17 Key Plain Language Techniques Identify and write for your audience Use active voice Keep paragraphs and sentences short Limit jargon, legalese and acronyms For a complete list of techniques see the: Federal Plain Language Guidelines Federal Plain Language Guidelines

18 18 Write for your Audience Put yourself in your reader’s shoes Who is my audience? What are the needs and objectives of the audience? What does my audience already know about the subject? What questions will my audience have?

19 19 Veterans Affairs Letter Please furnish medical evidence in support of your pension claim. The best evidence to submit would be a report of a recent examination by your personal physician, or a report from a hospital or clinic that has treated you recently. The report should include complete findings and diagnoses of the condition which renders you permanently and totally disabled. It is not necessary for you to receive an examination at this time. We only need a report from a doctor, hospital, or clinic that has treated you recently. This evidence should be submitted as soon as possible, preferably within 60 days. If we do not receive this information within 1 year from the date of this letter, your pension claim will be denied.

20 20 Plain Language Revision What We Need We need more information from you in order to process your pension claim. Please send us a medical report from a doctor or clinic that you visited in the past six months. The report should show why you can't work. When We Need It We need the doctor's report by [date]. We'll have to turn down your pension claim if we don't get the report by that date.

21 21 Use Common Words INSTEAD OFUSE AnticipateExpect CommenceBegin, Start Contiguous toBordering on, Next to EffectuateCarry out, Bring about ImplementBegin, Start Prior toBefore Pursuant toUnder UtilizeUse

22 22 Active Voice Video

23 23 Use Active Voice Be transparent! Show who or what is doing the action upfront. Instead of: New regulations were proposed. Use:The Department of Transportation proposed new regulations.

24 24 Use Active Voice Active Voice: Eliminates ambiguity: –Passive: “It must be done.” –Active: “You must do it.” Emphasizes important messages –Passive: “O-ring temperature will be achieved at 32 degrees.” –Active: “The O-rings will fail at 32 degrees.”

25 25 Keep It Short There is no escaping the fact that it is considered very important to note that a number of various available applicable studies ipso facto have generally identified the fact that additional appropriate nocturnal employment could usually keep juvenile adolescents off thoroughfares during the night hours, including but not limited to the time prior to midnight on weeknights and/or 2 a.m. on weekends. 62 words

26 26 Keep It Short “The most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do.” ~Thomas Jefferson More night jobs would keep kids off the streets. 9 words

27 27 Jargon and Acronyms Avoid obscure and archaic language –Example: Hereby, Wherefore, ab initio Use language your audience is familiar with –Instead of: The patient is being given positive-pressure ventilatory support. –Use: The patient is on a respirator. Define your acronyms –You may use your Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) at airport checkpoints.

28 28 Define Your Acronyms

29 29 Avoid Legalese Instead of: Pursuant to 8 CFR part 3, an appeal shall lie from a decision of an immigration judge to the Board of Immigration Appeals, except that no appeal shall lie from an order of removal entered in absentia. Use: You may appeal a decision of an immigration judge to the Board of Immigration Appeals, unless the judge ordered your removal when you were not physically present at the hearing. See 8 CFR part 3.

30 30 Start Your Own Program First make sure your organization: Understands what Plain Language is Is on the same page: 1 training program for the entire organization Identifies key “pain points” and works to improve those documents first Looks for small successes and aim for continuous improvements

31 31 Have High Level Support Your program will fail without top level support! Your senior managers need to be plain language champions Have top level messages promote plain language Encourage managers to attend plain language class Have regular meetings to brief management on your program

32 32 Program Tips Have training classes often (once a month or once a quarter) Offer class to HQ and the field Send broadcast messages to remind employees about the importance of clear writing Create an electronic writing guide accessible to workforce Make educational videos Create a recognition program

33 33 Resources PLAIN monthly meetings –Held the 2 nd Wednesday of each month. PLAIN’s website: Federal Plain Language Guidelines PLAIN offers free, half day plain language classes to federal agenciesfree, half day plain language classes –You can have your trainers take the class and develop an agency specific training class based on our class.


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