Author Archives: dsbosley
Hennepin County, Minnesota, has just completed a three-year pilot program in which they tested short forms for recipients or those who are eligible to apply for certain types of benefits. The outcomes were so encouraging, they will now roll out the new forms for statewide use.
Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored a bill to implement a pilot program to test if they could make it easier for people to apply to receive Supplemental Security Income payments. They tested 200 people who filled out the original application against 200 using the new form.
The results indicated that although the return rate didn’t change, the short forms
- were more convenient
- took an average of 5 to 10 fewer minutes to process
- cost $.65 less to mail down from $1.26 per unit.
Ironically, because we are so “trained” to expect lengthy, unintelligible government forms, some people were afraid that filling out the short form might mean they would lose of their benefits. (Pavlov would have something to say about that.)
One reason this “experiment” was so successful is the effect it had on the people who have to fill out these forms, many of whom are nearing the end of their life, or facing debilitating illnesses, or suffering with severe disabilities. Government communication should not add to their pain and suffering.
The least government can do is make it easy for us to secure benefits we are entitled to.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has now added credit card agreements to its list of consumer-centered communication. The Bureau is asking for public comments about their prototype at www.consumerfinance.gov/credit-cards/knowbeforeyouowe/
Here’s an explanation of their new focus from Marla Blow, Acting Assistant Director, Card Markets, CFPB. (more…)
The one-year anniversary of the Plain Writing Act signing was perfect timing for the Center for Plain Language to hold a plain language workshop. Under the Act, federal employees and contractors are required to write all documents in plain language.
The highlight of the workshop attended by 70 from 18 federal agencies and bureaus, was an address by the Act’s key sponsor, Rep. Bruce Braley. Braley shared some personal stories about why plain language is so important to him as an attorney, and talked about the process of getting the Act signed after two years of starts and stops. Braley connected the Act to education, jobs, saving the country time and money, and even to the approval rating of members of Congress. The Center for Plain Language gave Rep. Braley the award for Outstanding Leader for Plain Language after his keynote.
“When we as legislators can improve the quality of our communications so that we help our constituents solve their problems, that’s when Congress’ approval rating will go up,” said Braley
Another highlight of the workshop was information from the Office of Management and Budget’s Nick Frazier. Frazier’s explanation and clarification of OMB’s agency guidance was important to the attendees, especially those new to plain language.
The Department of the Interior’s plain language expert led an in-depth session on what plain language is and what it isn’t. Representatives from three additional federal agencies (Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and the IRS) also shared their individual stories of how they led their agency to start using plain language. The agency reps said they offer training, document review, and counseling to their agency personnel.
Roundtable discussions led by government plain language champions and Center Board Members provided a forum for attendees to get all their plain language questions answered.
At the end of the day, one participant commented, “I have no unanswered question. Actually, I got answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had.”
In the plain language world, we teach writers to look for the “unasked questions.”
Congratulation to Henry Maury, the Center’s new Executive Director, and organizer of the event, for practicing what we teach.
by Deborah. S. Bosley
This week, I’ll be discussing two new initiatives that could require health information to comply with plain language standards: 1) health benefit information provided by insurance companies, and 2) a new form from the Department of Health and Human Services designed to make it easier to understand health information. Both initiatives are asking for public comment. (more…)
Although the Center does not endorse readability testing as the best or the only or the most effective method for determining how easily someone can understand and use information, CreditCards.com conducted an analysis of the readability of most of the major credit card statements/agreements. CreditCards.com’s mission is to “provide consumers with the largest variety of credit card offers online, and to enable smart selection and use of cards by offering news, advice, features and tools.” (more…)
Plain language is rapidly spreading around the globe. I just got back from Oslo, Norway, where the weather was cold and overcast and the sidewalks were icy. I spoke about the Plain Writing Act at a government conference on plain language.
by Joanne Locke
On March 1, the Washington Post published an article by Sandra Boodman’s on the need for clear health communication: “When Understanding is Critical”
She describes the some serious problems that can result when patients don’t understand how to comply with their doctor’s instructions. But she seems to be blaming the victim. Rather than point out how many people have different levels of literacy – such as 90 million at the basic and below basic skill level – it’s important to recognize that we ALL occasionally have difficulty understanding health information: especially when it affects us or someone we love.
by Jean Fox, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Many federal agencies conduct usability evaluations to ensure that their products, websites, and documentation are easy to understand and use. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), to work with more than nine people, the agency must get approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). (more…)
The Center again applauds Representative Bruce Braley (IA), who recently sent a letter to Republican leaders encouraging a change to their proposed Rules of the House. Congressman Braley asked them to add a provision that would require Committees to post a Plain Language section-by-section summary of all bills on their public websites 72 hours before a bill is considered on the House Floor. (more…)
We all applaud the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, and recognize how important this Act is to helping citizens understand their government. However, we hope as agencies begin to comply, we will be able to count on accountability. The Act itself does not contain a process for accountability: