How did grading work in 2013?

Agencies earn separate grades for

  • Compliance with the Plain Writing Act of 2010
  • Writing and information design


Compliance scores whether agencies fulfill the requirements of the Plain Language Act of 2010. Agencies get points for:

  • Having a webage that describes the agency’s plain language efforts
  • Providing a feedback channel for people to complain about documents that are hard to understand or praise documents that are written clearly
  • Responding  to feedback in a timely matter (including our request for documents)
  • Having a link to the plain language webpage on the Agency homepage
  • Publishing the agency’s Plain Language Plan
  • Naming the person in charge of the plain language program
  • Publishing an annual report describing what they’ve done
  • Training staff to write in plain language

Writing and information design

Writing and information design scores were based on whether the documents demonstrated effective use of plain language principles, such as

  • Does the writer limit  their use of passive and hidden verbs?
  • Does the writer use common words and avoid or define jargon?
  • Is the content direct and concise or wordy?
  • Is the narrative cohesive?
  • Do the images help readers understand key points or do they just “pretty up” the document?
  • Does the  typography (Headers, bold, colored fonts) to help readers understand how the document is organized?

We used automated tools (i.e., Microsoft Word, Stylewriter and Co-Metrix) to evaluate basic writing characteristics. Volunteers scored design elements that software can’t handle.


How did we pick the documents to score?

Agencies submit documents to be evaluated. In  2013, we sent emails to each agency’s Plain Language feedback email asking for  3-5 documents designed to help the public understand their mission, policies, activities or procedures. If agencies responded to our email and sent documents, we scored those (and gave them compliance points for responding to their feedback email). If they didn’t, we used the first few documents we found on their website that met our requirements.


Did agencies improve?


Honor roll or detention?

There was quite a bit of press coverage for the Report Card.

Agencies that did well got a commendation letter from Congressman Bruce Braley. Agencies that did poorly received strong encouragement to do better next year.


Get involved

Analysis for the Report Card happens between April and October. To get involved, contact Kath Straub.