GovLaunch – Plain Language Act Passes

Home Forums Miscellaneous GovLaunch – Plain Language Act Passes

This topic contains 7 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Stephen Peteritas 9 years, 3 months ago.

  • Author
  • #111955

    Steve Ressler
    Pretty big news…

    Senate Passes Braley Plain Language Act
    Bill to Simplify Public Documents Receives Unanimous Consent

    Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley announced today the US Senate passed
    the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (H.R. 946) late Monday night. The bill
    requires the federal government to write documents, such as tax returns,
    federal college aid applications, and Veterans Administration forms in
    simple easy-to-understand language. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) had
    placed a hold on the bill for months, but recently agreed to lift it after
    Braley met with him personally.

    “The Plain Writing Act requires a simple change to business-as-usual
    that’ll make a big difference for anyone who’s ever filled out a tax
    return or received a government document,” said Representative Braley.
    “This bill shows what bipartisanship can accomplish when we put aside our
    differences and work together for the common good. Writing government
    documents in plain language will increase government accountability and
    will save Americans time and money. Plain, straightforward language makes
    it easy for taxpayers to understand what the federal government is doing
    and what services it is offering.”

    In June, Braley met with Bennett to discuss the bill’s merits and try to
    alleviate any of Bennett’s concerns. After making minor changes, Bennett
    lifted his hold and the bill passed last night by unanimous consent. The
    amended Senate version will now go back to the House for final passage.

    The Plain Writing Act requires the federal government to write new
    publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a “clear,
    concise, well-organized” manner that follows the best practices of plain
    language writing.

    Braley introduced the Plain Language Act in February 2009. The bill
    passed the House by a widely bipartisan margin of 386-33.

    Examples of Plain Language in Use: Before and After

    Here are three before-and-after examples of how plain language was applied
    to federal documents to make them easier to understand. For more
    examples, see<>.

    Example #1: Medicare Fraud Letter (click link)

    Example #2: FDA drug warning label (click link)

    Example #3: IRS form (click links)

  • #111969

    Stephen Peteritas

    YES!!!! I can understand it now hopefully

  • #111967


    Is this law just for federal government or for state government as well?

  • #111965

    Sterling Whitehead


  • #111963

    Jenyfer Johnson

    Plain language and common sense…no wonder it took so long to pass and a politician had trouble understanding it!

  • #111961

    Alycia Piazza

    Do you or some of your team members need training to write in plain language? Web Manager University has a course for that. Check out Leslie O’Flahavan’s two day workshop where you can bring YOUR web pages to work on – What is better then having live professional help / advise on your website during the class? The course will be held in a computer lab.

    Hurry though – registration is filling up!

  • #111959

    Mark Hammer

    As someone who works in employee surveys, I can attest that there is a perpetual battle between the policy folks, and language they use (which is often highly legalistic), and the front-line folks who need to frame/phrase things from the perspective of the citizen/employee. The two example 3s illustrate this nicely. The “before” example is what our policy and procedures requires of you, while the “after” example is dictated more by what you might be thinking at this moment.

    At the risk of taking a huge digression, nearly 25 years ago I attended a talk by world-class authority on text comprehension Walter Kintsch (from U of Col at Boulder). Kintsch noted that he had recently (at that time) had cause to consult some software documentation for something he hadn’t used in a while. In contrast to the harsh criticisms directed at software documentation (and this was the era where “For Dummies…” books were beginning), he said they were actually surprisingly well-written. However, he noted, they were written from the perspective of an expert, not a novice, and unless you already were an expert, you’d likely find them incomprehensible, not organized according to your present needs, and not explained in any useful fashion. That insight into official documentation of any sort, whether software documentation, or tax forms, is no less true today than it was in the 80’s or eras before then.

    So, while the legislation itself is supportive, the step that people have to learn to take, be granted permission to take, and actually take, is to consult with novices regularly, so as to understand what they need and want to know, and not just leave it at what you want to tell them. The basis of good writing of any sort is always being able to anticipate your reader, and the varieties of preparation they may have.

  • #111957

    Tim Evans

    Some of us OF’s have already been there, done that. Remember Jimmy Carter’s “Operation Common Sense,” under which we were tasked with re-writing all our Regulations in plain language. At my agency, “Common Sense” just became a verb, as in “Here, common-sense this.”

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.