Federal Government Language – Jargon What is the primary audience for your piece? My audience is federal employees. In no more than 3 sentences, what is the central message you want to communicate to readers in this piece? The phrases and words used in government writing are confusing and some documents are too long. Using plain language will communicate clear, concise, and easy to understand to those seeking assistance or instructions. What aspects of your final project do you feel are the strongest?
The examples, the history, and articles written support the use of plain language is the strongest aspects. With more time (and motivation), what would you further revise about this piece? I would include more interviews with government workers and the population who has completed or read a government document or form. Actual forms and documents could be added as well. What was most rewarding about completing this writing project—in other words, what are you taking away from this experience?
Since, I will be revising one of the processes used in the VA Medical Center where I work; this project has given me more insight into changing the wording of the instructions and forms that would be attached to the government regulation and policy. An employee complains about a confusing question on an unemployment form. A citizen asks questions about information on a job announcement. A government employee does not understand a standard operation policy. Government documents are confusing and hard to read. Utilizing the plain language approach will eliminate the jargon that is common in government documents.
It is imperative that these documents communicate understandable information to the reader. After World War II, awareness of the need to make government documents clearer was expressed by many federal employees such as John O’Hayre who recommended plain language in government documents. His book entitled Gobbledygook Has Gotta Go pinpointed the confusing language used by the government. Warren Buffet summed up plain language marvelously in a “writing tip” in the introduction to the 1998 SEC Plain English Handbook.
He stated to write with a specific person in mind, “when writing the Berkshire Hathaway annual report, I picture my sisters, highly intelligent but not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is to give the information I would wish to receive if our positions were reversed” (Locke). Implementation of plain language was advocated by a number of US Presidents, in the 1970s President Nixon decreed in writing “that the Federal Register be written in “layman’s terms,” in 1978 President Carter issued orders “to make government regulations cost-effective and easy-to-understand. President Clinton, in 1998 “revived plain language as a major government initiative” (Locke). “The current administration does not have a formal plain language initiative; however, a mandate for communicating clearly with the public is part of the Strategic Plan in a number of federal departments and agencies. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is home to the leader of the US Government’s plain-language movement. There are monthly meetings of the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN).
Every member of PLAIN is working to ensure that the information written by federal employees is in plain language. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) realize that low health literacy combined with the increasing incidence of chronic health problems like diabetes and obesity results in a serious public health problem. To fight these problems most effectively, they know it is more important than ever to use plain language, so consumers get information that is clear, informative, and effective in helping them improve or maintain their health” (Locke).
It is important for the Federal Government to understand that plain language has been used for a long time, but is even more important today with the increasing use of the internet and senior citizens living longer than ever before. There are even web sites totally devoted to defining jargon to help ease the confusion of government documents. The United States is not the only country implementing plain language some countries instituted plain language long before America. Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, and Mexico have many plain English initiatives.
Government documents are filled with “Protein Prepositions,” which are expressions that only certain groups understand the meaning of such as; “toe-to-toe,” “hands-on,” and “to buy off on” (Predmore). The complicated documents are long-winded causing the reader to get frustrated. “Governments are expected to be transparent, to report to the public and to communicate information in a way that the average reader can understand” (Engl 302 – Plain Language). The Medicare Beneficiary Services has created training that shows how to change correspondence sent to customers.
This was accomplished by using examples of old responses. These responses were changed to shorter and more direct letters. This program is call “Before” and “After”. Expository writing will build credibility through experience, research, and examples. They provide information such as explanations and/or directions. The subject “Government Jargon” explains the uncertainty that comes from government documents. Expository writing includes plain language; which is writing that can be understood in a single reading.
Documents written for the government, and public websites should be written in plain language. The audience should be able to read the document without extensive research, which is the, definition of single reading. A goal in government writing should include but are not limited to the following attributes: a. All writing must have a purpose that is clear to you as well as the reader. b. Documents must be reader-centered; that is to have your reader in mind while writing for their needs. c.
Organize a planned and clear meaning for your intended reader. d. Documents should not run on; they should not be wordy. e. Accuracy is a must; facts must be checked and rechecked then recorded carefully. f. Government documents often require action; all information needed to complete the act must be included for readers that are not familiar with the subject. g. To ensure the document will be read, the design of the document must be professional and convey a tone of professionalism (Engl 302).
Todd Shields a writer for Bloomberg online reports, the U. S. government has passed the Plain Writing Act requiring “federal agencies to practice writing that the intended audience can easily “understand and use because that writing is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices of plan writing” (Shields 2009). Although, this initiative will be a costly to implement, it will be more cost effective, by eliminating wasted rereading time as well as repeated completion of the same documents. (Engl 302 – Plain Language).
The language used in government writing causes confusion and waste valuable time, using plain language will allow government agencies to provide guidance in a way that can be understood and reduce frustrations. With many more senior citizens now than ever in our history, and the wide use of internet sites it is imperative that government documents be made simpler and easier to complete. Today’s society does not have time to read and re-read to understand what they should do. Reference Locke, J. (2004). A History of Plain Language in the United States Government. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http:// www. lainlanguage. gov/ whatis PL/history/locke Plain Language Retrieved July 22, 2010, from http://www. plainlanguage. gov/ examples/before_after/medicarefraudltr. cfm The White House Washington (June 1, 1998). Retrieved July 14, 2010 Doyle, S (2009). Engl 302 writing for Government. The Characteristics of Good Government Writing. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from http://web. uvic . ca/ ~ sdoyle/E302/Notes/Characteristics. html Doyle, S (2009). Engl 302 writing for Government. Plain Language: Writing for Readability. Government Writing. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from http://web. vic . ca/ ~sdoyle/E302/Notes/Characteristics. html Bennett, B. Writing tips: Minimise jargon. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from http://billbennett. co. nz/writing-tips-minimise-jargon/ Predmore, Richard L. (1983). Government Language Utilization: the Tower of Babel Resurrected. VQR. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from http://www. vqronline. org/articles/1983/winter/predmore-government-language-utilization/ Shields, T. (2009). Clear Government Writing Has a Price, U. S. Budge Analysis say. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from http://www. bloomberg. com/apps/ mews? pid=newsarchive&sid=aNcXw4htZZsE