Much government web content is written in “governmentese” instead of plain language, says a white paper of Federal Web Managers Council

Much government web content is written in “governmentese” instead of plain language, says a white paper* developed by the Federal Web Managers Council, comprised of Cabinet agency Web Directors. The paper suggests (i) Establish Web Communications as a core government business function, (ii) Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently, (iii) Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online, (iv) Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service, (v) Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service, (vi) Ensure the public gets the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, print, or visit in-person, (vii) Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online. All of these are sound suggestions. Item (vi) is perhaps most difficult to ensure in practice. There are about 24,000 government websites now online, notes the white paper. The Council has also invited comments on the white paper. Mercifully it is a 3-page white paper. Surely worth a look.

Dr D.C.Misra
*FWMC (Federal Web Managers Council) (2008): Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government, A White Paper Written for the 2008 – 2009 Presidential Transition Team, November, http://www.usa.gov/webcontent/documents/Federal_Web_Managers_WhitePaper.pdf (accessed: December 18, 2008).

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

L P O'Neil

About a decade ago, there was a useful handbook on how to write Plain English. It was put out by Mr. Al Gore’s council on improving government or whatever it was called.

Despina Babbage

government speak is often deliberate – obfuscation is a form of ersatz profundity – we don’t assist, we facilitate that kind of thing…

Sarah Bourne

Insofar as written communications are a reflection of professionalism, government officials and employees have a tendency to use advanced vocabulary and grammar to demonstrate their intelligence and competence.


We want people to think we’re smart and that our work is official, so we use fancy words.

Dennis McDonald

While I agree that “governmentese” can be a scourge and that plain writing is always good, I think that overall usability of web resources is seriously impaired by poor organization and navigation features. One reason this happens is that the people who develop and maintain web sites are not always in tune with how and why people use them.

Still, a commenter on my blog, quoting a recent public satisfaction survey, says that the public in general is more satisfied with web services than with other aspects of government agency performance. That comment is attached to this blog post: “Comments on the Federal Web Managers Council’s “Putting Citizens First” White Paper” http://www.ddmcd.com/federal.html

Dr D.C.Misra

You are right. We seldom realise that e-government has given rise to both, poor e-government and good e-government. And thank, Dennis, for the link giving an interesting finding. I will check it up.