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Plain Language Initiative May 2007 Los Angeles County Management Council.

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Presentation on theme: "Plain Language Initiative May 2007 Los Angeles County Management Council."— Presentation transcript:

1 Plain Language Initiative May 2007 Los Angeles County Management Council

2 Plain Language Initiative Chronology of Plain Language Initiative – Plain Language and the Commission – What has worked well – What we want to happen in the future

3 Plain Language Initiative Plain Language Committee Charter – Explore the feasibility of implementing a plain language project within the County Promote awareness among County managers about the benefits Develop and maintain an active website to access information, sample documents and offer best practice sites Provide computer based training for Network managers and appropriate staff

4 Plain Language Initiative Commission and CAO support – Involved all departments at the highest levels – Worked with department heads who would benefit most CSSD, TTC, DPSS, DHR, Consumer Affairs and CAO Consultant – Presented to the Guiding Coalition – Surveyed 30 departments - about 50% aware of the need to communicate in plain language

5 Plain Language Initiative Plain Language benefits – Improve customer service – Gets your message across the first time – More people understand your message – Less chance your document will be misunderstood – Increase staff productivity/reduce costs If you cant explain something simply, you dont understand it well. - Albert Einstein

6 Plain Language Initiative Plain Language Work Plan – Enhance Awareness Training, Tag line, Success Stories Websites – – – County Digest, Newsletters, Posters, Department Visits, PQA and PIF applications Network Managers Computer Based Training

7 Plain Language Initiative Software Evaluation Tool – Measure the effectiveness of the software Enhance communication? Increase productivity? – Pilot (March – May 2006) – Evaluation (June)

8 Plain Language Initiative Style Writer – Best word processing add-on on the market – Teaches you to write in the style of top authors and journalists by checking every document for thousands of style and English usage faults – Ten times more powerful than any other writing aid – Improves writing style instantly – Augments grammar and spell check

9 Plain Language Initiative Computer Based Training (Style Writer) – Allows staff to use plain language Software offers the user prompts which promote writing in plain language Greatly assists the users to communicate more effectively and efficiently

10 Plain Language Initiative Plain Language is the official U.S. Government writing style – 1972, President Nixon decreed all agency rules are to be in laymans terms – 1977, President Carter ordered all agencies and departments to use plain English – 1998, President Clinton launched a plain-language initiative

11 Plain Language Initiative Cost Savings Example If the head of an agency sends a two-page circular to 20,000 employees whats the cost? Based on government statistics of employing a federal employee at $25 an hour multiplied by the five minutes it takes to read, the cost of the circular is $40,000. Writing a circular 30 percent shorter with the same content saves $12,000 in staff time.

12 Plain Language Initiative To write in plain language, you must: – Keep your average sentence short – Use active rather than passive verbs – Prefer the simple word to the complex word – Cut all unnecessary words – Keep jargon to a minimum – Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar – Read and edit everything you write

13 Plain Language Initiative Results of using Style Writer – Readers act on your suggestions – People compliment you on your style and clarity – Contracts dont cause disputes because they are clear – Web pages get more visitors – Press releases get more media coverage

14 Plain Language Initiative Setting a high standard for documents – The Style Writer can measure your writing so you can aim for our recommended plain language scores - doesnt limit content or structure content – Target scores are set – Use Style Writer's advice until you get good or excellent ratings – Once you consistently write within the target scores, you will be a plain language writer

15 Plain Language Initiative Plain Language Project – Department of Consumer Affairs – Rewrote consumer brochures, web pages, phone messages, and form letters – Before plain language – 5,000 callers per month – After plain language – 3,500 callers per month – 30 percent reduction with annual savings of $50,000

16 Plain Language Initiative Good Writing Targets – Style Index – overall assessment of your writing and includes passive verbs, long sentences, complex words, wordy phrases – Passive Index – measures the number of passive verbs compared to the number of sentences in your document – Average Sentence Length – measures the important yardstick to readability

17 Plain Language Initiative Good Writing Targets ScoreMinimum Standard Ideal Score Style IndexUnder Passive IndexUnder Average Sentence Length Under

18 Plain Language Initiative Sentence Length – Keep your average sentence length between 15 and 20 words – Cut down long sentences – Vary the length of your sentences

19 Plain Language Initiative Long: As you may be aware, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is currently reviewing the evidence relating dietary factors to health and will advise the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services of any changes needed for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (46-word sentence) Group Exercise -

20 Plain Language Initiative Shorter: As you may be aware, The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is currently reviewing the evidence relating dietary factors of diet on health. and It will advise the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services of any changes needed for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (Average: 19 words)

21 Plain Language Initiative Imagine a Reader Listening to You – Write for your readers Imagine your reader standing in front of you, listening to you read your document Would they effortlessly take in everything you say? If not, would you cut some nonessential information and rephrase it in a clearer style? Read the formal versus natural conversation sample

22 Plain Language Initiative Formal: However, as you are probably aware a decision concerning the acceptability or otherwise of your proposed project has not been taken in view of the potential effect on historic properties and the fact that the breadth of the potential problems is still becoming apparent, the Agency is not in a position to inform any applicant as to the stat of the program of their application.

23 Plain Language Initiative Natural: The Agency has not yet decided on your project because the effects on historic properties are still unclear. We cannot yet tell you if we will approve your application.

24 Plain Language Initiative Put the most important information first – Use the Five-Ws to summarize the most important information for your reader – This will encourage you to write with clear, factual and relevant information

25 Plain Language Initiative Use the Five-Ws Technique – Who – What – Where – When – Why

26 Plain Language Initiative – FDA Stops Human Gene Therapy Experiments The Food and Drug Administration (who) today (when) halted four human gene therapy experiments (what) conducted by a leading researcher at Yale (where) who was trying to grow new blood vessels in patients with heart disease (why).

27 Plain Language Initiative Wordy Phrases WordyConcise an amount of $100$100 at the present timenow in addition tobesides, also in order toto in relation toabout, in, with, towards on a regular basisregularly

28 Plain Language Initiative Complex Words – Complex: We will endeavor to assist you. – Simple: We will try to help you.

29 Plain Language Initiative Words to avoidWords to use – Additionalextra, more, added – Approximatelyabout, around, roughly – Commencedstarted, began – Facilitatessimplifies, eases, helps – Forwardedsent, sent on – Purchasesbuys – Regardingabout

30 Plain Language Initiative Abstract Writing – Abstract: Running our new facility will improve our system performance. – Specific: Running Suns database saves three hours printing the payroll report.

31 Plain Language Initiative Editing Thoroughly – Good writing comes from strong editing Read your work Recognize unnecessary repetition, ambiguous statements Add new information and read your work again

32 Plain Language Initiative Example of Plain Language Editing Original: The purpose of this document is to detail the reasons for rewriting the Audit Tool as opposed to just updating it. Group Exercise

33 Plain Language Initiative Example of Plain Language Editing Redraft: This report explains the reasons for rewriting the Audit Tool rather than updating it.

34 Plain Language Initiative Passive Verbs – Replacing passive verbs with active verbs means your: Style becomes more personal and less official Style is simpler and less awkward Readers get more information Meaning becomes clearer and more precise Sentences are shorter and more effective

35 Plain Language Initiative Original (four passive verbs highlighted) – It was estimated by the research that half of the states and localities would adopt this approach, and that savings of up to $900 million a year could be made. However, to make sure these savings are guaranteed, estimates will need to be recalculated by the Department for accuracy. Group Exercise

36 Plain Language Initiative Active voice – redraft (34 percent shorter) – The research estimated half the states would adopt this approach and could save up to $900 million a year. The Department will need to recalculate the estimates to guarantee these savings are accurate.

37 Plain Language Initiative Business Clichés (clichés highlighted) Please find the enclosed Agencys response in respect of Freedom of Information request. We apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused due to the unforeseen circumstances that have arisen due to factors beyond our control that caused the response to be two weeks late. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to call me. Group Exercise

38 Plain Language Initiative Business Clichés (Natural Style) Dear Mr. Davidson: I am sorry our response is two weeks late, but we needed ten extra days to collect and analyze the Department of Defenses recently published figures. If you have any questions, please call me.

39 Plain Language Initiative Strong Verbs and Specific Nouns Exercise – Original: It is self-evident that if we give staff more training in the future, the better they will perform.

40 Plain Language Initiative Strong Verbs and Specific Nouns Exercise – Redraft: Giving staff more training helps them perform better. (8 words)

41 Plain Language Initiative Overwriting – Use qualifying words with caution – Every time you use one to add emphasis question whether you need it or see if you can use a stronger word instead

42 Plain Language Initiative Overwriting: Your letter completely convinced us that a change in our procedures is definitely necessary. Redraft: Your letter convinced us that a change in our procedures is necessary.

43 Plain Language Initiative Written material is in plain language if your audience can: – Find what they need – Understand what they find – Use what they find to meet their needs

44 Plain Language Initiative Getting Started - Demo – Department IT Support to install software – Open a Word Document Click on Style Writer button – Click on the Help button – Click on Using StyleWriter – Click on Analysis button Click on Statistical Summary Track your target scores over time – QPC office with questions

45 Plain Language Initiative Visit our website The difficulty is not to write, but to write what you mean, not to affect the reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish. - Robert Louis Stevenson

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