Plain Language: the Key to Serving Citizens

I was an English major in college. My mom was an English teacher. All my life, I’ve valued words; and I always have believed that you communicate only when you choose the right words and put them in the right order. So from the day I became HUD’s web manager, my number one personal goal was to improve the way government talks to citizens. Make it easy. Make it conversational. Make it useful. Use the words citizens use.

When I met Annetta Cheek, from the Center for Plain Language, I found a soul mate and a cause that I could really get behind. Plain language – using words your audience understands – seems like such an obvious objective for government. If we don’t communicate effectively, we don’t serve effectively. And yet, we just don’t invest the time and energy to write plainly, especially on our websites.

In a recent survey sponsored by the General Services Administration (GSA), respondents were asked to choose 3 things that we could do to improve government websites. Number one answer (chosen by 62%)? Write in plain language.

Thursday, November 12, is World Usability Day. “Usability” is a simple concept: make things easy to use. And this year, “plain language” is the focus of World Usability Day. GSA is coordinating some wonderful FREE opportunities to learn more about usability and plain language. Take advantage of them!

Tomorrow – on World Usability Day – stop, take a look at your website, pick a page, and re-write it in plain language. Don’t think about it – do it. Challenge the other web managers and web contributors in your organization to do the same thing. At the end of the day, post those pages. And next week, pick a day and do it again. Make a commitment to rewriting at least the top pages and most-used pages of your website within the next 6 months. It’s the very best thing you can do for your audience. It’s the key to serving citizens.

Related Links
Plain Language Is a Win-Win-Win

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I’m with you. Plain language is beautiful but people rarely do it. I think people believe that big words and acronyms make them smart. A truly talented person can explain any subject (no matter how complex) to a beginner by using clear language.