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1 Principles of Plain Language APHA May 9 th, 2013 Hot Springs, Arkansas * Some Content Adapted from NIH Resources.

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1 1 Principles of Plain Language APHA May 9 th, 2013 Hot Springs, Arkansas * Some Content Adapted from NIH Resources

2 Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo da Vinci Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. Albert Einstein The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. Thomas Jefferson I love words but I don't like strange ones. You don't understand them and they don't understand you. Old words is like old friends, you know 'em the minute you see 'em. Will Rogers Men of few words are the best men. William Shakespeare Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. I never write "metropolis" for seven cents when I can write "city" and get paid the same. As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. Mark Twain

3 Today’s Main Learning Objectives 1) Define the concept of Plain Language as related to minority populations in Arkansas 2) Describe three principles of Plain Language that can be used to improved communication

4 Plain Language as related to minority populations in Arkansas In Arkansas ,000 adults function at below basic literacy skills. 19% of adults have less than a high school diploma.

5 Arkansas Immigrants 56% of immigrants in Arkansas have limited English Proficiency 73% of foreign born adults in Arkansas read below or a a basic level 48% of immigrants in Arkansas have no earned a high school diploma

6 Health literacy is particularly pertinent for cancer patients and the elderly, who may have hearing or vision problems that further complicate communication. Cancer patients are bombarded with big terminology and medical information that they may not understand, so they return asking the same questions.

7 Low health literacy has the potential to negatively impact individuals with cancer and other chronic illness who are in a rehabilitation setting in terms of health and well- being. Low health literacy can negatively impact issues such as self-management of cancer and other chronic illness and medication adherence. This problem is possibly compounded if the individual is from a rural community, transplanted to a metropolitan inpatient rehabilitation setting and then sent back to their rural community. It is important to understand how low health literacy interacts with the individual in their complex social setting, including family, health care setting and home community with the goal of reducing potential health disparities among this population.

8 Literacy skills are a stronger predictor of an individual’s health status than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group. Limited health literacy increases the disparity in health care access among exceptionally vulnerable populations (such as racial/ethnic minorities and the elderly).

9 9 What is plain language? Communication that your audience or readers can understand the they hear or read it. Communication that your audience or readers can understand the first time they hear or read it.

10 What are the main elements of plain language? – –Logical organization – –The active voice – –Common, everyday words – –Short sentences – –“You” and other pronouns – –Lists and tables – –Easy-to-read design features 10

11 11 Plain Writing Act of 2010 Requires executive agencies to use plain language in documents by October 13, 2011  In all communications with general public – except regulations.

12 12 Identify your audience Think of why the user needs to read your document Think of why the user needs to read your document Keep in mind the average user's level of technical expertise Keep in mind the average user's level of technical expertise Write to everyone who is interested, not just to experts (focus on the 90 percent of readers in the middle of the spectrum) Write to everyone who is interested, not just to experts (focus on the 90 percent of readers in the middle of the spectrum) Even an expert will prefer a clearly written document Even an expert will prefer a clearly written document

13 13 Organize to serve the reader Anticipate questions an informed reader is likely to ask Anticipate questions an informed reader is likely to ask Organize writing to answer questions in the order the reader will ask them Organize writing to answer questions in the order the reader will ask them

14 14 Use headings Allow the reader to quickly find relevant information Allow the reader to quickly find relevant information Break up the information Break up the information Increase blank space on the page Increase blank space on the page Informative headings help the reader navigate the document Informative headings help the reader navigate the document

15 15 Use short paragraphs Limit a paragraph to one subject or step Limit a paragraph to one subject or step Smaller “bites” of info are easier to digest Smaller “bites” of info are easier to digest Aim for no more than 7 lines Aim for no more than 7 lines

16 16 Use short sentences Treat only one subject in each sentence Treat only one subject in each sentence Avoid complexity and confusion Avoid complexity and confusion Aim for 20 words per sentence or fewer Aim for 20 words per sentence or fewer

17 17 Using pronouns Pronouns: Speak directly to readers Speak directly to readers Make your writing relevant to readers Make your writing relevant to readers Require less translation from your readers Require less translation from your readers Eliminate Eliminate words

18 18 Using pronouns Use “we” to refer to your agency Use “we” to refer to your agency Use “you” for the reader Use “you” for the reader If you are using Q&A format, use “I” in the questions and “you” in the text If you are using Q&A format, use “I” in the questions and “you” in the text

19 19 When Pronouns Don’t Work If you’re addressing more than one audience If you’re addressing more than one audience If you refer readers to more than one office within your organization If you refer readers to more than one office within your organization

20 20 Use active, not passive voice Active voice is more clear, concise and direct Active voice is more clear, concise and direct Passive is a characteristic of bureaucratese Passive is a characteristic of bureaucratese “Mistakes were made.” “Mistakes were made.”

21 21 Hidden Verbs Conduct an analysis Conduct an analysis Present a report Present a report Do an assessment Do an assessment Provide assistance Provide assistance Came to the conclusion of Came to the conclusion of Analyze Analyze Report Report Assess Assess Help Help Concluded Concluded

22 22 Use consistent terms Avoid “Shall.” It is ambiguous and is not used in everyday speech Avoid “Shall.” It is ambiguous and is not used in everyday speech Use “must” for an obligation Use “must” for an obligation Use “must not” for a prohibition Use “must not” for a prohibition Use “may” for a discretionary action Use “may” for a discretionary action Use “should” for a recommendation Use “should” for a recommendation

23 23 Bryan A. Garner on “Shall” In just about every jurisdiction, courts have held that “shall” can mean not just “must” and “may,” but also “will” and “is.” The [U.S. Supreme] Court has [in various decisions]: Held that a legislative amendment from “shall” to “may” had no substantive effect Held that a legislative amendment from “shall” to “may” had no substantive effect Held that “shall” means “must” for existing rights, but that it need not be construed as mandatory when a new right is created Held that “shall” means “must” for existing rights, but that it need not be construed as mandatory when a new right is created Acknowledged that, “legal writers sometimes misuse ‘shall’ to mean ‘should,’ ‘will,’ or even ‘may.’ ” Acknowledged that, “legal writers sometimes misuse ‘shall’ to mean ‘should,’ ‘will,’ or even ‘may.’ ”

24 24 Don’t sound so bureaucratic Limit jargon and acronyms Limit jargon and acronyms Contractions aren’t bad Contractions aren’t bad Use everyday words Use everyday words

25 25 Two kinds of jargon Necessary technical terms Necessary technical terms Example: Habeas corpus, plaintiff Example: Habeas corpus, plaintiff Obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words Obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words Example: Hereby, Wherefore, ab initio Example: Hereby, Wherefore, ab initio

26 26 Limiting acronyms/abbreviations Use “we” for the agency Use “we” for the agency Don’t use acronyms/abbreviations for infrequent phrases Don’t use acronyms/abbreviations for infrequent phrases Try another style (the Council) Try another style (the Council) Make them pronounceable Make them pronounceable (STARS, TRACON, FSDO) (STARS, TRACON, FSDO)

27 27 Use everyday words anticipate anticipate attempt attempt commence commence demonstrate demonstrate implement implement in the event that in the event that submit submit terminate terminate expect expect try try begin, start begin, start show, prove show, prove start start if if send, give send, give end, cancel end, cancel

28 28 Use lists Lists-- Make it easy for the reader to identify all items or steps in a process, Make it easy for the reader to identify all items or steps in a process, Add blank space for easy reading, and Add blank space for easy reading, and Help the reader see the structure of your document. Help the reader see the structure of your document.

29 29 Why use tables? Tables-- Save words Save words Make it easy to locate specific provisions Make it easy to locate specific provisions Make it easy to take in complex material at a glance Make it easy to take in complex material at a glance Make your logic and structure clear Make your logic and structure clear

30 The Red Wheelbarrow so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. William Carlos Williams


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