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Presented to: Los Angeles County By: Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Date: August, 2007 Plain Language.

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Presentation on theme: "Presented to: Los Angeles County By: Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Date: August, 2007 Plain Language."— Presentation transcript:

1 Presented to: Los Angeles County By: Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Date: August, 2007 Plain Language

2 2 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Presentation Outline Introduction Plain Language Principles Work with County materials, using Stylewriter Benefits of Plain Language

3 3 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Presentation Outline Introduction Plain Language Principles Work with County materials; using Stylewriter Benefits of Plain Language

4 4 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Introductions Logistics Goals for today Definition of plain language

5 5 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Goals for today Understand the benefits of plain language Recognize common style faults in County materials that decrease clarity Know the definition of plain language, and the importance of audience Know how to use plain language techniques to improve clarity Understand how to use Stylewriter to improve style and clarity

6 6 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek What is Plain Language? Material is in plain language if readers can Find what they need Understand what they find Use it to fulfill their needs And they should be able to do this the first time they read or hear it!

7 7 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The most important principle: Think about your audience! You must understand your audiences knowledge of and familiarity with a topic. What is plain language for one audience may not be plain language for another audience.

8 8 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Presentation Outline Introduction Plain Language Principles Work with County materials; using Stylewriter Benefits of Plain Language

9 9 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Some benefits of plain language Plain language also results in better compliance with instructions. People think youre smarter when you write in plain language. Plain language saves time and money for both the author and the audience.

10 10 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lets talk about some examples.

11 11 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The result – Significantly fewer calls from customers. One office, in Jackson, MS, decided to rewrite one standard letter into plain language. Veterans Benefits Administration

12 12 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Fewer calls from customers Old letterPlain Language letter Calls to each counselor each month Total calls each year, 10 counselors 10,

13 13 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Revised regulations about radio operations on pleasure boats to improve their clarity. A Washington-based firm studied the ability of users to find answers to questions in the old and new versions. The test groups included both new and experienced users. Federal Communications Commission

14 14 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Less time for users to solve a problem (in minutes)

15 15 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek An extensive project revising forms into plainer language and format. As a result, they saved time for their agencies and achieved a higher rate of compliance with requirements. Canadian Government

16 16 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Shorter processing, more returns Name of FormOriginal Version Plain Language Version Operating Grant Application Staff processing time – 20 minutes Staff processing time – 3 minutes Grant Report25% return rate50% return rate Tree Nursery Order Form 40% error rate20% error rate

17 17 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The British government also had a huge forms project to redo many forms into plainer language and format. As in Canada, they decreased the workload of their staff and achieved a better response from the public. British government

18 18 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Fewer errors, less staff time Form to claim lost baggage Error rateCost of rewrite Savings Old form55% Plain Language form 3%$3,5003,700 staff hours, $45,000 each year

19 19 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Every several years the Veterans Benefits Administration sends a letter to all veterans, asking them for an up-to-date beneficiary. If a veteran dies and the beneficiary listed in his VA file isnt valid, the VA must find a valid beneficiary. It costs the VA several thousand dollars to do the research to find a valid beneficiary. Veterans Benefits Administration

20 20 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Response rate Original letter35% Plain language letter 58% Higher response rate, lower costs Estimated savings $8 mil every mailing cycle

21 21 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Research project to study the effects of using plain language on the performance of a financial services company, BANCO. The researcher translated scripts used by Bancos service staff to answer customer questions over the phone. Private sector Two groups of 30 subjects – one used the original document, the other the plain language version. (Neither had experience with the topic covered by the document.)

22 22 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The PL group was 61.2% more satisfied with their documents than the original document group. The PL Group preferred all aspects of their documents. The PL group said their documents improved their ability to find, understand and use information required for their jobs.

23 23 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek ProductivityUp 36.9% ErrorsDown 77.1% Number of calls to help desk Down 17.4% Length of calls to help desk Down 10.5% Predicted improvements based on the two sample groups

24 24 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Presentation Outline Introduction Plain Language Principles Work with County materials; using Stylewriter Benefits of Plain Language

25 25 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Overview of Plain Language Techniques None of the techniques well discuss define plain language – rather, they are ways to achieve plain language. Together, these techniques help you be clear and concise.

26 26 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Use: Informative headings Active voice Pronouns Lists and tables Common words Logical organization

27 27 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid: Abbreviations, jargon, legal terms, Latin Confusing constructions Unnecessary words Information the audience doesnt need Long sentences

28 28 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek A general principle – Less is more! Plain language usually – but not always – helps you be more concise.

29 29 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Organize logically for the reader There are several standard ways to organize: Chronological Most important first General first, special and exceptions last If you find material more than once, suspect poor organization

30 30 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek What would you be looking for first if you had to go to these sites? Abducted child Building permit Dog bite

31 31 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Headings Questions – Why should we use headings? Statements – Headings help guide readers Topics - Headings There are three types of headings

32 32 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The most useful headings But dont make up the questions – use question headings only if you know the audiences questions. Are question headings, because people generally come to our documents with questions. Lets look at a County document with question headings.County document

33 33 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Use active voice Subject, verb, predicate – Who, does what, to what or whom. We charged the incorrect amount. The best sentences are like the ones you first learned in school.

34 34 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid passive voice Passive voice is harder to understand. Passive voice can confuse the audience because its not clear who does what. Passive voice is one of the major problems of bureaucratic writing.

35 35 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek What is passive voice? The actor follows the verb. Some form of the verb to be is combined with the past participle of another verb. The frog was swallowed by Fred.

36 36 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Passive Voice Can disguise who does what: A frog was swallowed. Active Voice Makes it clear who does what: Fred swallowed a frog.

37 37 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Passive Voice Is often longer: The application must be completed by the applicant and received by the grants office by June 1st. 17 words Active Voice Cuts the number of words: We must receive your completed application by June 1st. 9 words

38 38 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Use pronouns to speak to the audience Using general nouns such as beneficiary or purchaser requires the audience to translate before they can be sure you are talking to them. Research shows that people relate better to information that talks directly to them by using pronouns.

39 39 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek How to use pronouns Refer to your organization as we Refer to the reader as you in the text and as I in questions Make sure you define we and you

40 40 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lets use pronouns and active voice to improve a couple of your sentences. In the event that a graffiti removal request is reported that may not be the responsibility of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, you will be directed to the appropriate agency. (33 words)

41 41 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek If you submit a graffiti removal request that is not our responsibility, we will direct you to the appropriate agency. (20 words)

42 42 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Easy access to information and resources concerning long-term care issues for seniors and the disabled has been made available on a new website developed by the County Department of Community and Senior Services. (33 words)

43 43 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek We developed a new website to give you easy access to information and resources about long-term care for seniors and the disabled. (22 words) You can easily get information and resources on long-term care for seniors and the disabled on our new website. (19 words)

44 44 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Do not use these pronouns! He/she His/her S/he

45 45 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Using lists and tables Make sure that all the items in a list are constructed in a parallel way – each item should start with the same part of speech. Using conjunctions (and) and disjunctions (or) improperly can confuse the audience, and even give incorrect information. Lists can be a very powerful way to convey information.

46 46 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lists, contd Consider this confusing list. Try not to mix and and or in one list.

47 47 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek You may be able to receive a temporary supply of that prescription. You can receive a temporary supply if: You are within the first 90 days of coverage under the new drug plan AND You were auto-enrolled into the plan and they don't cover your drug OR You didn't know that your drug wasn't covered OR You didn't know that you could request an exception to the formulary.

48 48 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek You can read this list two ways: It requires bullets 1 and 2; or just bullet 3, or just bullet 4. It requires bullet 1 and bullet 2 or 3 or 4.

49 49 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek I would say: You may be able to receive a temporary supply of that prescription if you are within the first 90 days of coverage of your new plan. You must also meet one of the following conditions: You were auto-enrolled into the plan and they don't cover your drug; or You didn't know that your drug wasn't covered; or You didn't know that you could request an exception for your drug.

50 50 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lists, contd Dont make lists too long Research suggests that 7 items is the maximum number of items that can be understood easily. For verbal delivery, Id say 4 or 5 is the most you should use. You have lists much longer.

51 51 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek I did find lots of long and confusing lists in your material.

52 52 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek What are the types of referrals received by the IA Unit? The following represent a cross section of referrals: abuse of authority/intimidation (e.g., using one's position to manipulate a participant or employee). misappropriation of internal funds (i.e., stealing public money, negotiables). conflict of interest (e.g., an employee living with a participant). breach of confidentiality (e.g., using confidential participant information for personal gain, or sharing a confidential password for computer access).

53 53 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek falsification of employment applications, workers' compensation claims, examination records, timecards, and internal records. systems abuse (e.g., embezzlement). unreported employment or earnings (e.g., part-time work exceeding the 24 hour/week limit). gambling on duty or on County property. extortion of funds from participants; solicitation of bribes. drug/alcohol sales on County property. inappropriate, dishonest and/or criminal conduct. sexual harassment of applicants/participants.

54 54 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Use common words Big words do not make you look smarter! Avoid uncommon words, bureaucratic words, foreign words, and jargon. Even highly educated people read faster and with better comprehension if you stick with common words.

55 55 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Common words Instruct Tell ReceiveGet ObtainGet AssistanceHelp RegardingAbout RetainKeep

56 56 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid abbreviations, jargon, legal terms, Latinisms

57 57 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Abbreviations Using abbreviations turns your material into a research project for readers. Readers complain more about abbreviations and acronyms than about any other feature of bureaucratic writing. If your abbreviation has another, more common meaning, your audience will forget your special meaning and remember the more common one.

58 58 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek How can you fix abbreviations? Instead, use nicknames such as unit instead of WPU for Witness protection unit, or case review instead of PQCR for Peer Quality Case Review. Dont use more than two, and at most three, abbreviations in each written document.

59 59 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Jargon I found lots of jargon I your material: harborage continuity assumptions evidence-based programs transient docks

60 60 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Bureaucratic and legalistic words Herein Hereafter Hereby Pursuant to In accordance with Shall (use must instead)

61 61 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Latin terms i.e. and e.g. are major problems. Many people do not know what these mean. Many who do know the meanings dont remember which is which. Other Latin terms to avoid – via per

62 62 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid confusing constructions Slashes Misplaced modifiers and other words

63 63 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Confusing constructions - slashes The most common use of the slash is in either/or and and/or In most cases, when you use one of these constructions, you mean either one term, or the other. Dont make the audience decide which. In the few cases where you truly mean both, write them out. Apart from fractions, the slash has almost no good uses.

64 64 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Confusing constructions - Misplaced modifiers Sloppy word placement can cause ambiguity. Put conditionals such as only or always and other modifiers next to the words they modify. Write you are required to provide only the following, not you are only required to provide the following.

65 65 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Some examples from your documents Los Angeles County has been limited to only spend its money on children in out-of-home care. Only carry the credit and identification cards you need. The Public Defender only represents persons subject to criminal prosecution, civil commitment, or contempt citation.

66 66 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid unnecessary words Weve already covered some techniques that help you cut excess words – using pronouns and active verbs are the two main ones. This is a huge topic. Recognizing what words you can cut out is a talent you develop over time.

67 67 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek A few LA examples of wordiness At the time of its enactment At enactment or when enacted We have taken a number of steps We have taken steps We wrote the report in an effort to provide We wrote the report to provide Three hours in a 24- hour period Three hours in 24

68 68 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Other ways to avoid excess wordsLook for Prepositional phrases Redundancies Hidden verbs Excess modifiers Doublets Meaningless formal language

69 69 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Excess words - redundancies Redundancies are words or phrases you dont need because you already said the same thing.

70 70 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Redundancies At a later time Later During that time period Worked jointly together Level of coverage Will plan in the future At least 12 years of age or older During that time, or then Worked together Coverage Will plan At least 12

71 71 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Unnecessary words - prepositional phrases Did you notice that a lot of the previous examples included prepositional phrases? Try to reduce these phrases to one or two words. Suspect prepositional phrases as a source of excess words.

72 72 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Instead ofUse For the purpose ofFor, to At this point in time Now In relation to About, in, with On the grounds that Because On a monthly basis Monthly

73 73 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Excess words - hidden verbs Hidden verbs are verbs disguised as nouns. They are generally longer than their true verb forms. Hidden verbs are very common in bureaucratic writing.

74 74 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Conduct an analysisAnalyze Present a reportReport Make recommendations Recommend Provide assistanceHelp The use of Using

75 75 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek And while were on the topic of verbs Always use the simplest form of a verb that works Simpler verbs are stronger than complex verbs For example, use simple past when possible (we finished the project) rather than past perfect (we had finished the project)

76 76 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Excess words – unnecessary modifiers English speakers use many excess modifiers in our writing and in our speech. They pad our writing, and often dont make sense.

77 77 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Common excess modifiers Absolutely, completely, totally, really, very Eliminate them. If the resulting wording doesnt convey your meaning, pick a stronger word.

78 78 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek It is absolutely essential that you contact me at once. It is imperative that you contact me at once. You must contact me at once. I had a really good time at your party. I had a wonderful time at your party.

79 79 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Heres a couple examples from your materials This plan is truly intended to be regional and integrated. Individuals who have been seriously underserved

80 80 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek When you think about them, these excessive modifiers often dont even make sense. Totally unaffected Completely finished Really pregnant An absolute success!

81 81 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Unnecessary words - doublets In English, we love to repeat words, especially in legal forms.

82 82 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Common doublets Cease and desist Due and payable Begin and commence Knowledge and information

83 83 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek General wordy phrase help For a list of wordy phrases and suggested alternatives, see

84 84 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Excess words - Meaningless formal language Meaningless formal language wastes space and your readers time. It conveys the impression that you are insincere. Bureaucratic letters often contain this language, especially in first and last sentences.

85 85 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Some LA County letters Thank you for contacting us. We hope you find the information useful. Thank you for bringing this complaint to our attention. Thanks for your asking if Make every first and last sentence in your letters meaningful and content- laden.

86 86 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Information the reader doesnt want or need Bureaucratic writing is full of unnecessary information. Dont give your readers a dissertation, just give them what they need.

87 87 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The Los Angeles County Department of Community and Senior Services developed this website to provide easy access to a wide array of information and resources relevant to clients, families, organizations, and individuals concerned with long- term care issues for seniors and the disabled. With just a few clicks this portal connects you to... We have put this web site together in an effort to provide the general community with online access to our services and publications. We hope you find this information timely and useful.

88 88 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The Board of Supervisors created the Office of Affirmative Action (OAAC) in 1976 to assist County departments in the prevention of employment discrimination and provide programs that ensure equal employment opportunity in County government. Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code Section only specific individuals are allowed to receive an AUTHORIZED CERTIFIED COPY of a birth or death record.

89 89 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Avoid long sentences No sentence should be longer than 40 words. These numbers should be even smaller when you write for the web or for scripts to be delivered over the phone. For written material, sentence length should be 20 words or fewer.

90 90 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lets combine some plain language techniques to improve some sentences.

91 91 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Presentation Outline Introduction Plain Language Principles Work with County materials; using Stylewriter Benefits of Plain Language

92 92 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Think about all the techniques weve discussed and rewrite the next few passages.

93 93 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek The mission of the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) is to enrich lives through effective and caring service. DPSS, in commitment to reduce and prevent homelessness among its CalWORKs families, implemented, in April 2004, the DPSS Housing Program. The Program includes a number of benefit and services designed to assist homeless families and families at risk of homelessness to move out of the current situation and into affordable permanent housing.

94 94 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek In Los Angeles County, the Norway rat, roof rat, domestic cat, and opossum are involved in the transmission of this disease to humans. Man has played an active role by introducing the animals involved in the transmission cycle and by creating environmental conditions conducive for the maintenance and spread of murine typhus. These animals often exist in significant numbers in commercial or residential communities because of ample food supply, accessible harborage, and a lack of predators such as coyotes.

95 95 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Lets do some longer passages.

96 96 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Now lets look at Stylewriter and see what it would do with some of these passages.

97 97 Dr. Annetta L. Cheek Resources On-line guidance On-line training Army writing program NIH training program Plain Train program


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