Alex – I used to be the web manager at HUD and co-chaired the Federal Web Managers Council until I retired, so Andrew suggested I jump in here.
Yes, you should design and write your website from you audience’s point of view – always. If you’re a .gov, you have to assume that the general public is at least part of your audience, so you do need target them, in part. But I took a look at your site, and it seems pretty clear that your primary audiences are practioners. So, in your case, I think I might try to do a very simple Readers Digest version of what you do, written for the public, and put it both on your home page and your “about us” page. Don’t over-look them because they always deserve to know and understand – in general – what a taxpayer-funded agency does. But then organize and write your site for your primary audiences. “Plain language” means using the words the your primary audiences use. So in your case, you can write most of your site to practitioners – your primary audience.
The biggest thing about using plain language on the web is to keep it very, very concise..use bullets, headers, and sub-headers to help your audience find what they want very quickly. Break up those “walls of words.” And I alway recommend testing and re-testing with your target audiences. I’ve done this a lot of years, and I still get surprised now and then by audience reaction.
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