The Elements of (Gov 2.0) Style

By / Nov 12, 2009

The Elements of Style I’m all for the “clarity in government” objective of PLAIN (Plain Language Action and Information Network), the folks who maintain plainlanguage.gov.

I fully understand and support the need for PLAIN’s lofty goal of “Improving Communication from the Federal Government to the Public,” but don’t quite understand the need to create an entire Website to achieve this.

While I may be simplifying this effort, it seems to me a better approach would be to make Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style required reading for all federal government employees.

I’m a big believer that great writing is fundamental to successful Websites (see Why Gov 2.0 means the U.S. Government must centralize its Web operations).

On June 1, 1998, President Bill Clinton issued a memorandum on Plain Language in Government Writing as part of its reinventing government efforts.

The directive states:

PLAIN defines plain language as:

Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Written material is in plain language if your audience can:

* Find what they need;
* Understand what they find; and
* Use what they find to meet their needs.

There are many writing techniques that can help you achieve this goal. Among the most common are:

* Logical organization with the reader in mind
* “You” and other pronouns
* Active voice
* Short sentences
* Common, everyday words
* Easy-to-read design features

No one technique defines plain language. Rather, plain language is defined by results—it is easy to read, understand, and use.

Questions:

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